The study explored social media activity during two peacetime natural disasters in Saudi Arabia, a country where citizen participation in public matters is minimized and communication with government is characterised by restraint. A qualitative thematic analysis using concepts from public sphere, online public sphere and previous studies of social media was used with 5000 threads taken from YouTube, Facebook, Al-Saha Al-Siyasia and Al Arabiya. Social media helped users to communicate the gravity of the damage of the floods; discuss rationally what really happened, and why and who was responsible; criticize the government and call for action to be taken to remedy the situation; and express deep emotions of sadness over the loss of lives in a way that united people. Rational discussion was evident on Facebook and Al-Saha Al-Siyasia, but social media was more useful for reading the emotional state of the people than as a vehicle for communicating the deliberative and rational aspirations of the public sphere. Social media is unlikely to produce social change on its own, but is likely to facilitate social and political trends for change already occurring in countries, and this may be accelerated during times of disaster when heightened emotions embolden people. Governments may regard social media as a vehicle for undesirable pressure, or positively as a window on the emotional state of their people that helps them to respond more appropriately.