In Brief

How Facebook and Google spread false information about Las Vegas shooter

Tech giants accused of ‘not caring about viral spread of misinformation’ through their platforms

Facebook and Google have been criticised for promoting false news stories claiming that the shooter who killed more than 50 people in Las Vegas was a Democrat who opposed Donald Trump.

The misidentification “spread rapidly from dark corners of the internet to mainstream platforms in the latest example of fake news polluting social media amid a breaking news story,” reports The Guardian.

Google search results related to the name of the man wrongly identified as the killer prominently displayed a post from the online forum 4chan - where users were asserting links between him and the Democrats and left-wing political news websites.

Similarly, on Facebook, a “Safety Check” page the social network offers to “help connect with friends and family and find and give help after a crisis” promoted stories from the right-wing news sites Gateway Pundit and Blogspot, which “also falsely identified the suspected shooter and included misleading speculation on his motivation,” says Forbes.

Google tried to downplay the problem, saying the reason 4chan appeared at the very top of its search results, highlighted with a photo and set aside in a box, was the fault of an algorithm.

“Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly serving an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries,” the company said in a statement. “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.”

Facebook said the offending post was spotted by its global security operations centre but that “its removal was delayed by a few minutes”. In that time, it added, the post was “screen-captured and circulated online”.

‘Series of half-measures’

Both tech giants have faced calls to take greater responsibility for the stories they promote following revelations of Russian interference in last year’s US elections.

“Despite months of assurances to the contrary, the internet’s two largest media platforms have yet to adequately protect their systems from enabling the viral spread of misinformation,” says Forbes.

“There’s a way - the fact is, they don’t have the will,” Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University told the Financial Times.

Facebook has said it will hire 4,000 additional content moderators but Galloway said that was not enough to have an effect: “It’s pi**ing in the ocean - it’s a series of half measures.”

The Outline’s William Turton agrees saying: “The only reasonable conclusion at this point is that tech companies like Google and Facebook do not care about fixing this.”

“Making sure 4chan is not included in this module seems like the lowest possible bar you could set for Google, and yet the company failed to clear it,” he adds.

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