Don’t forget Facebook: False Saudi prince ‘suicide’ video debunked by keywords

A video shared online described as showing the suicide of Saudi prince Bandar bin Khalid bin Abdulaziz at a London airport has been debunked as false by RT Digital. Here we outline the steps taken to stop fake news entering the news cycle.

We became aware of this video from the below tweet on March 13, claiming to be ‘unverified video’ of the suicide of Saudi prince Bandar bin Khalid bin Abdulaziz at a London airport.

Other Twitter users soon posted the same video that, despite containing no actual facts, quickly became associated with the Saudi prince’s death, which was reported by state media on March 13.

The lack of resemblance between the individual seen jumping from the balcony and the Saudi prince led us to believe it was not the same person. We also had no visual clues to believe the incident took place in a London airport.

We did believe, however, that the video originated on Instagram given its square format — though searching on this platform and Twitter failed to lead us to the original.

Next we turned to Facebook, which can be an off-putting platform on which to search due to its algorithm-led results in place of a chronological order.

We searched the keywords “airport” and “suicide” and were returned results linked to suicide attacks in airports. We then used more descriptive verbs in our searches, allowing for the fact that it may not have been a suicide.

The words “jump” and “airport” produced this video with the Instagram username ‘_tavelly’ visible in the bottom left.

We found the account — belonging to Royce Tavelly — on Instagram with the below video of the incident posted on 1 March.

The post states that the video was filmed at Atlanta airport and in the comments Tavelly says that the man who jumped did not die. There was no reference of a Saudi prince.

We contacted Tavelly for more details. He told us in his response that he did not film the video, instead sourcing it off a Twitter account he could no longer identify.

We looked for more information to corroborate the location as no visual elements in the video gave us enough detail to definitively confirm that this was not a London airport, as initially rumoured.

Our Facebook keyword searches yielded yet another video of the same incident. More detail was visible in the video, including a sign for a ‘Five Guys’ restaurant.

A quick search found that no ‘Five Guys’ restaurants were present at London airports but there was a restaurant at Atlanta International Airport.

Another sign visible in the second video could be identified in Tavelly’s video. This showed the letters ATL contained in a shape similar to a logo used by a chartered bus company operating in Atlanta.

We knocked down this rumour through knowledge of Facebook’s search function. It proved invaluable in directing us to information needed to investigate the facts associated with a video that was quickly gaining traction online.

Facebook may be taking a bashing with accusations it facilitates fake news but, with more than 2 billion monthly active users, it’s a key tool in the digital news-gathering armoury.

Even when a video originates on a different social media platform, the discussion amongst Facebook’s huge number of users can offer a wealth of information to journalists.