Google, Facebook help spread bad info after Las Vegas attack

Google, Facebook help spread bad info after Las Vegas attack

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Google too shared posts from forums like 4chan that were also disseminating wrong information. Facebook's "Safety Check" feature confronted users with far-right blogs that spat out false information about victims and the shooter.

Right-wing news site the Gateway Pundit, which the Trump administration granted White House press credentials this year, posted a now-deleted item identifying Geary Danley as the shooter with the headline: "Las Vegas Shooter Reportedly a Democrat Who Liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with Anti-Trump Army".

A Twitter spokeswoman on Monday pointed to a June blog post from Colin Crowell, Twitter's vice president of public policy, government and philanthropy when asked about the false tweets cropping up on the social network. Alt-Right News on October 2 theorized that the actual shooter, Paddock, was probably a "left-wing nutjob" associated with a woman who "may or may not be a Muslim".

False reports crept into prominent Google search results and on Facebook's Crisis Response page in the hours following Sunday's attack on a country music festival in Las Vegas.

Perhaps the most egregious strain of misinformation took hold after far-right trolls gathered on 4chan, a forum in which individuals are permitted to post nearly anything anonymously, and, through some amateur online sleuthing, misidentified the shooter.

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The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website, published a story declaring that the person 4chan had named was the culprit.

Meanwhile on YouTube, top search results for Stephen Paddock - the real gunman - were already contaminated with conspiracy theories disseminated by 4Chan and amplified by Google, which painted the shooter as a "radical democrat terrorist", who was "most likely Anti Trump extreme left". During life-threatening events, Safety Check lets people announce that they're OK and also aggregates news and even points to fundraisers. However, their removal was delayed, allowing them to be screen captured and circulated online.

This narrative, backed by no evidence or confirmation of Danley's involvement in the Las Vegas shooting, spread quickly.

In a statement, Facebook said, "We are working to fix the issue that allowed this to happen in the first place and deeply regret the confusion this caused". A search for "Gear Danley" displayed a direct link to 4chan in the search engine's "Top Stories" section-the carousel of stories that often appear near the top of the page to help surface information relevant to trending topics and breaking news.

"Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries", a spokesperson for Google said in a statement. Google hired the founder of 4chan, Christopher Poole, in 2016, though there's no indication that he's involved with the search results that promoted 4chan.

  • Kyle Warner