Google and Facebook Criticized for Spreading Misinformation About the Las Vegas Shooting

October 2, 2017, 6:53 PM UTC

Both Google and Facebook have been forced to respond today to criticism over the fact that the tech giants’ massive platforms mistakenly spread misinformation about the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

On Monday, law enforcement officials identified 64-year-old Stephen Paddock as the man who allegedly carried out the mass shooting in Las Vegas last night that left at least 58 people dead and more than 500 people injured. However, even as information about the suspected gunman began to circulate online, a parallel false narrative was also spreading after various online threads posted on the forum site 4chan misidentified a man named Geary Danley as the likely shooter, based on his possible connection to a woman who was briefly a person of interest in the incident.

Meanwhile, for a while on Monday morning, Google’s Top Stories promoted links to a 4chan message board that incorrectly identified Danley as the shooter. (BuzzFeed’s Ryan Broderick first pointed out the issue on Twitter this morning.) Various “alt-right” websites seized on the misinformation this morning, calling Danley a Democrat who is opposed to President Trump.

A Google spokesperson eventually issued a statement, saying that the 4chan page should not have appeared in any of Google’s top search results and adding that “within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results.”

Facebook appeared to be suffering from a similar problem when several critics online noted that the social networking giant’s Crisis Response hub—which aims to offer a running feed of news stories relevant to the Las Vegas shooting—was promoting an article from the right-wing news site Gateway Pundit citing “reports” that Danley was the Las Vegas shooter (as well as “a Democrat . . . associated with the anti-Trump army”). Gateway Pundit later deleted the article, but users also pointed to various articles from other “alt-right” news sites featuring misleading or false information about the Las Vegas shooting.

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In a statement to a CNN reporter, a Facebook spokesperson said the link to the Gateway Pundit article was spotted and removed by the company’s Global Security Operations Center after a short delay. “We are working to fix the issue that allowed this to happen in the first place and deeply regret the confusion this caused,” the spokesperson said.

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