Fake News on Vegas Shooter Embarrasses Google and Facebook

Fake news is back in a big way and threatening to distort the official version of events in Las Vegas, after Facebook and Google both promoted fallacious online stories that the shooter was an anti-Trump ‘liberal’.

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.

Police are still trying to work out what the 64-year-old Nevada man’s motives were, but that hasn’t stopped right-wing trolls making up and disseminating their own ‘alternative’ facts.

Many opined that the shooter’s name was “Geary Danley”, claiming he was a registered Democrat, with message board site 4chan yet again proving to be a hotbed of alt-right untruths, according to the Guardian.

Unfortunately, some of the world’s biggest tech platforms initially seemed to promote such fake stories.

Facebook’s Safety Check page allows those caught in such situations to connect with friends and family. However, the page briefly displayed a story claiming the shooter was a Trump-hating fan of liberal TV host Rachel Maddow, among other hoaxes.

Various reports have suggested that Facebook’s over-reliance on algorithms to differentiate between real and fake news has been its undoing. It reportedly fired a team of human editors working on its Trending Topics site in 2016, with their automated replacement apparently surfacing fallacious stories.

A Facebook statement had the following:

“Our Global Security Operations Center spotted these posts this morning and we have removed them. However, their removal was delayed, allowing them to be screen captured and circulated online. We are working to fix the issue that allowed this to happen in the first place and deeply regret the confusion this caused.”

Google was also found wanting during the crisis, with its search results promoting at one point a 4chan thread filled with lies about 'Geary Danley'.

“Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results. This should not have appeared for any queries, and we’ll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future,” a spokesperson told Bloomberg.

The incidents come at a time when social and internet platforms are coming under immense pressure for their role in disseminating fake stories, which may impact political outcomes.

Senators heavily criticized Twitter for failing to dig deep enough in its investigation into Russian activity on the site prior to the US presidential election, while Facebook is expected to share thousands of divisive ads bought between 2015 and 2017 by Russia-linked accounts.

A ground-breaking Trend Micro report from June revealed the true scale of the fake-news-as-a-service marketplace on the cybercrime underground, claiming a 12-month campaign to manipulate an election can cost as little as $400,000 (£301,000).

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