A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Adventures in Bad Viral Journalism: Did it Really Rain Money in the Gulf, and if so, Where? Dubai? Asir in Saudi Arabia? Kuwait?

A viral YouTube video that shows money falling from the sky has variously been described as happening in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait, and involving sums anywhere from a few thousand dollars to half a million pounds sterling. Before we embark on the competing claims, let's see the video itself:

Certainly, the video shows some amount of money falling from the sky, somewhere. Since there are multiple incompatible stories, we need to start with a control version of this urban legend/social media viral story. I'm not sure any of the multiple reports describing this event in Dubai/Kuwait/the Asir Province of Saudi Arabia can be called totally reliable. So let's make our control one that can be called dependably unreliable, The Daily Mail:
 Fact checking: yes the statement that It is estimated that notes valued between two and three million Dirham were loose - meaning up to £500,000": As of yesterday, three million dirhams would have been about £527,000. or US$817,000. Even if the total number of notes is misstated, each 500 dirham note is just under the £88 pounds cited (£87.95 yesterday) Not a bad "windfall," so to speak.

If it happened.

The Emirati press says it didn't happen in the UAE. No doubt Dubai's reputation for extravagant expenditures and outrageous building projects fueled the idea that this happened in Dubai.

Emirates 25/7 News offers a thoroughly different story:
A wave of sand and thunderstorms in Saudi Arabia brought dust, rain and snow across the desert Gulf Kingdom except one place, where it rained money.
Residents of a neighbourhood in the Southern Asir province could hardly believe their eyes when they were flooded with hundreds of Saudi riyal notes.

Unlike in rainfall, instead of seeking shelter they welcomed the money storm with open hands, open hearts and a big smile on their faces.

They apparently were very curious as to where the money came from but not to the extent they would return it to the source. They simply picked the notes and vanished happily inside their homes.

In a report from Asir, ‘Sabq’ newspaper explained the phenomenon. “Two bank employees were supplying the ATM machine with notes during a sandstorm when nearly SR10,000 in SR100 notes were blown away.”

“The two called the police, who called back-up to search for the money, but not a single note was found.”

The story says these were Saudi Riyal  SR100 notes, each worth a bit over US $26  or £17.20 Sterling, so SR10000 would be $2600 dollars or £1720, an amount that may be credible for loading an ATM machine, but hardly The Daily Mail's half a million Sterling.

The quoted Saudi newspaper Sabq is an electronic one, and i haven't yet found the alleged story, but let me also note that the Emirati report cited above is illustrated with a man holding up a  Saudi 50 Riyal banknote as if it were one of those that fell from the sky, but the story says they were 100 Riyal notes.

Also, Asir is the Saudi Province just north of Yemen. I've never been there, but both the tall buildings and the spoken Arabic in the video make me think this is somewhere in the Gulf.

Skeptical yet, Watson? It gets better. Multiple reports noting background buildings say it's filmed in Kuwait.

Abu Dhabi's The National: "'Raining money’ video was filmed in Kuwait - not Dubai"
A building, Burj Jasim, can be seen near the car park, where a Fatburger restaurant is also located. Both indicate that the incident happened in Al Murqab area’s Al Soor Street, in Kuwait City. 
Arabian Business adds:
A video of the incident has gone viral on Youtube and social media websites. While some reports have claimed the incident took place in Dubai or Saudi Arabia, verification of the buildings where the video was filmed, it appears that the incident happened in Kuwait. Midway through the video, the name Burj Jassim (Jassim Tower) appears on a building outside where people are gathering the money. The presence of a FatBurger outlet, also located at Burj Jassim (pictured below) would support the belief that the video was shot in Kuwait.

So what are we dealing with here? Clearly such conflicting stories can't all be true, and no one in Kuwait even seems to have reported it. Possibilities:
  1. Perhaps this is real, but misattributed. The Gulf has been windy and unseasonably cold and maybe a crew reloading an ATM did lose some currency but not some huge mount.
  2. Perhaps the video was done for some sort of commercial promotion, or as a commercial for television.
  3. It could also be a hoax.

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