Everyone's Freaking out Over Why This Man Was Kicked off His Flight

December 21st 2016

Mike Rothschild

Social media lit up Wednesday when prolific YouTube creator Adam Saleh posted a video that purported to be him and a friend getting kicked off a Delta Airlines flight in London for "speaking Arabic" on the phone to his mom.

There have been strong feelings about the validity of Saleh's video, with some claiming that it must be real and others calling foul and labeling it as a hoax - both examples of motivated reasoning in action.

In the video, which was posted early Wednesday morning and so far has picked up over 500,000 shares and 18 million views, Saleh expressed outrage in reaction to his removal from the plane. It immediately sparked an intense backlash against the airline's perceived ignorance and Islamophobia, with #BoycottDelta trending on Twitter. Many have been critical of this incident as yet another instance of the airline discriminating against minority passengers with most recently a black female doctor who attempted to help a passenger in distress, but was refused because the crew didn't think she was actually a doctor.

There have been other Twitter users who immediately called the incident a hoax claiming there's no proof to back up Saleh's accusation. The Muslim-American actor is best known for prank videos involving racial profiling and the Islamic stereotype, which is often set on airplanes. In 2014, he shot to fame with a video purporting to show him being victimized by New York City police for wearing traditional Islamic dress - a video he soon admitted was a staged hoax

These mixed reactions in regards to Saleh's claims point to a phenomenon known as "motivated reasoning" which when related to conspiracy theories is the act of believing that something is true or false based on the desire to believe it to be true or false, social psychologist Sander van der Linden told ATTN: in December. 

"Often, belief [...] is not about the evidence, but is linked to a higher-order ideological worldview that supports the underlying narrative," van der Linden added.


Delta released a statement saying, "a disturbance" led to two men being kicked off the flight in question, and Saleh himself said the airline gave him free tickets to another flight. What happened is still in question, and Saleh's video doesn't shed much light on any events that may have transpired before he started filming.


Many of the tweets expressing outrage at Delta are from anti-racist activists and prominent liberals. Likewise, many tweets calling Saleh a hoaxer are from conservative accounts, many of whom express support for Donald Trump.

What was expressed all too little was the need for healthy skepticism in the story while remaining open to it being true.

More and more, we default to believing victims of racism and sexual violence. But can skepticism be justified when the victim in question has essentially made a career out of faking such claims? What role do context and personal history play in reacting to incidents like this? Or do they not matter at all?

These are thorny questions, and will take much more effort to answer than outraged tweets online.