This past Friday Saudi Arabian media and social media sources began reporting that an engine had fallen from a Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747’s wing causing the aircraft to crash in the sparsely populated Rub Al Khali Desert. Further reports spreading through out various social media channels stated that there were fatalities and significant difficulties in reaching the crash site.
As this alleged incident unfolded, tracking of all known Saudi Arabian Airlines flights showed all aircraft accounted for and the media unable to determine a flight number, or any unaccounted for flights. Now as the sand settles, Saudi Arabia Airlines has confirmed that the reports of one of their planes crashing was an incorrect rumor picked up and perpetuated by local media.
Saudi Arabian Airline’s Deputy Director of Public Relations, Waleed Al Aloumi, has stated, “There is no such accident because we can not hide a crash accident from the media, the reports in some websites this week are totally baseless.”
The speed in which social media works is faster than news outlets can frequently keep up with, and this is even more challenging for public relations professionals not tracking stories in real time in social media. There is significant pressure to report a story first and check the facts later and ultimately the victim of this story (since there was no crash and were no victims) is Saudi Arabian Airlines. This story however could have been headed off quickly had the airline responded to the erroneous reports directly, and in the mediums they were being perpetuated, rather than waiting hours to respond in through ‘traditional media’ channels.