Toy drone, social media fed rumors of Riyadh ‘coup’ that never happened

The drone incident revealed how social media can spread rumors faster than governments or even those on the ground can contradict them.

April 23, 2018 19:51
2 minute read.

A drone (illustrative). (photo credit: INGIMAGE)


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There were “heavy clashes near the presidential palace” and “jets flying low” over Riyadh, according to tweets on Saturday night.

Journalists, “experts” and locals confirmed videos of the supposed gun battles and spread rumors of a “coup.” It turned out to be a lot of gossip, some of it malicious.

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The kingdom eventually confirmed a drone had been shot down. Meanwhile, residents only one kilometer from the “battle” said they were enjoying food at a local eatery. So what happened? On Saturday night, several videos with sound of automatic rifle fire in the background emerged.

Very quickly, accounts on Twitter – some of them supportive of Iran or Qatar in their disputes with Saudi Arabia, others connected to the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, and others seeking to spread what they thought was “breaking news” – posted stories about momentous events in Saudi Arabia’s capital.

For instance, according to Palestinian journalist Ali Abusaad, a coup attempt was being “carried out by loyal officers of Mohammed bin Nayef, the former crown prince.” Western journalists also picked up the story. Daniel Medina at NBC tweeted that other journalists “are reporting heavy fire outside the palace compound.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, per these sources has been evacuated.”

Haider Sumeri pointed out that even if the event involved just a drone, the rumors “tell you how tense the monarchy is.” Ali al-Ahmed, a gulf and terrorism expert, agreed and said, “This shows you how scared Riyadh rulers are from a coup.” The government spokesman’s official statement from the account, though, spelled out that an unlicensed commercial drone flying in the Al Khuzama area of Riyadh had provoked the gunfire.


The drone incident revealed how social media can spread rumors faster than governments or even those on the ground can contradict them. In the case in Riyadh there were many people on the ground who could see there was no major security incident.

There were no helicopters in the sky, no armored vehicles on the streets, and contrary to some rumors, no kind of blackout in the city.

On Monday, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior announced that it was drawing up new regulations for recreational drones. “The statement comes a day after the kingdom announced that it shot down an unidentified toy drone over the Khuzama neighborhood in Riyadh,” a statement from the ministry said.

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