Las Vegas shooting shows Facebook, Google, and YouTube's misinformation problem
Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN
A page set up by Facebook to keep the public up to date on the October 1 Las Vegas shooting, along with searches on Google and YouTube regarding the shooting, show the struggle these platforms still have in combating fake and dubious news.
During the 2016 election campaign, fake news was widely shared on Facebook, including in its “trending topics” section. In response to intense criticism after the election, Facebook said it tried to take measures to limit the spread of fake news. Yet the company disclosed in September that hundreds of fake Russian accounts bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of advertisements, and reports continue to come out about Russia’s use of Facebook to interfere in the election.
Following a shooting on October 1 at a Las Vegas, NV, concert that killed at least 58 people, Facebook created a crisis response page called “The Violent Incident in Las Vegas, Nevada,” where people in the area could confirm that they were safe and users could find ways to support the victims. The page also has an “about” section with links to articles about the shooting, which seemed to appear and then disappear after a certain period of time.
While many of the articles on the page appeared to come from legitimate sources, some did not, and those dubious links even appeared toward the top of the page at certain points. One article that appeared on the page came from TruthFeed, a fake news purveyor that has pushed baseless conspiracy theories and other false claims. Additionally, the page at one point featured a link toward the top to an article from theantimedia.org, which was itself a reprint of an article from fringe blog Zero Hedge. Zero Hedge has a history of pushing conspiracy theories and has shared forged documents targeting then-French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. At another point, the Facebook page also featured, toward the top, an article from consistently inaccurate far-right pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit, which had already been forced to delete a post accusing the wrong man of being the Las Vegas shooter earlier that day. It also featured a link to a blog called Alt-Right News, which wrote about the shooting “from an Alt-Right perspective.”
Facebook’s heavy use of algorithms appears to still be harming the website’s ability to block misinformation and nefarious usage of its platform. Besides its crisis page, Facebook's trending topic page for the shooting featured multiple articles from Sputnik, an outlet funded by the Russian government that is currently under investigation by the FBI for possibly violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
And Facebook is not the only platform having problems following the Las Vegas shooting. Google featured in its news section a false claim from 4chan's "politically incorrect" message board (commonly referred to as "/pol/"), which Google blamed on algorithms and absurdly referred to as a "4chan story." And on YouTube, which is owned by Google, a conspiracy theory that the Las Vegas shooter was an "Anti Trump Far Left Activist" is one of the top results if the alleged shooter's name is typed into the search bar. If Facebook and Google cannot get a handle on their misinformation problem, more dubious sources will continue to roam their platforms, earning wide exposure for their misinformation.