Google, Facebook help spread bad info after Las Vegas attack

Herbert Rhodes
October 4, 2017

Las Vegas police say Stephen Craig Paddock, of Mesquite, Nevada, fired down on concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino hotel, killing at least 59 people and wounding more than 500 in the deadliest mass shooting in modern USA history.

4chan's inclusion anywhere near Google News' "authoritative" list is a troubling one, since 4chan users have consistently and repeatedly used the site to promote false stories about newsworthy figures.

Google News took the unusual step of confirming its use of the imageboard site 4chan as a news source on Monday. The article describes a female person of interest and calls her husband a "Trump-hating Rachel Maddow fan", thanks to screenshots of a Facebook page.

The death toll has now risen to 59 with over 500 injured after suspected lone gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire from a hotel room window.

Despite increased efforts this year to tamp down the spread of fake news and hoaxes on their platforms, both Google and Facebook have long ways to go in solving the issue as the tragic shooting in Las Vegas over the weekend uncovered.

"Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries", a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

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The incident highlights yet again how news and social-media algorithms created to help surface the best information can fall short in the hours after a major incident, when few factual details are readily available because authorities have yet to confirm or release them. "This should not have appeared for any queries, and we'll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future". Facebook is expected to share with Congress more than 3,000 examples of ads Russia-linked accounts bought on the platform from 2015 to 2017.

"Alt-Right News" theorised that the actual shooter, Paddock, was probably a "left-wing nutjob" associated with a woman who "may or may not be a Muslim", the report pointed out.

Facebook said its security staff had seen the post and removed it.

"However, its removal was delayed by a few minutes, allowing it to be screen captured and circulated online", Facebook said. Conservative "media personality" Wayne Root tweeted that the killings were a "coordinated Muslim terror attack", according to Buzzfeed.

In this case, alt right websites quickly latched onto the false report for political gain, painting the falsely accused man as a Democrat opposed to the Trump Administration.

Other reports by TheSundaySentinel

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