Facebook, Google Help Spread Fake Shooting Updates
After the news of the Las Vegas shooting spread, so did false information. In this day and age getting the news is as easy as typing in a name on a Google search bar. Unfortunately, that’s just how quickly misinformation and “fake news” can spread. According to search expert Bill Hartzer, Google is continuously crawling in search of new information on the Web. The problem is this happens so quickly that sometimes misinformation can spread. This is definitely not the first time Google has aided in spreading false information, but when it’s on the scale of being named as a mass shooter, that’s no small thing.
On a far-right message board called /Pol/ – Politically Incorrect someone named her ex-husband as the Las Vegas shooter and the trolls of the Internet came out of the woodworks to take him down. Even after police had correctly identified the shooter, the falsely-accused man was still named in tweets hours following the release. Then on Facebook an official made a “safety check page” designed to mark people safe from the attack, and displayed a post from an Alt-Right News page. Google’s top search sites still claimed this man to be the rightful shooter and a 4chan thread with the lies was bumped up to a top story.
So why did this all happen? In a matter of moments, this poor man went from being a normal guy to one of the most hated people in the world. According to Hartzer, “Goggle has not had the time to really vet the search results yet. So what they’ll do is they will show what they know about this particular name or this particular keyword.” Google is currently working on making algorithmic improvements that will prevent scenarios like this from happening in the future.
Facebook also released a statement that it was working on a way to prevent fake news from appearing. One solution that probably allows for these things to happen is that sites run by Google and Facebook alike are run by engineers. The people running them don’t verify whether or not something is true, they just run it. They don’t think like journalists.
It’s really not hard to spread “fake news” on sites like Google and Facebook because the size of both companies is ridiculously large. Yochai Benkler, a law professor at Harvard, believes that with more humans were involved in the processing of information, mistakes will happen. Blocking troll sites like 4chan won’t solve the issue either.
“Tomorrow in another situation like this someone will find some other workaround,” Benkler said. “It’s not realistic to imagine perfect filtering in real time in moments of such crisis.”
Google had announced earlier that it is working on improving its site so that ‘fake news’ would be avoided. However, instead many independent news sites saw their traffic diminish greatly, questioning the integrity of Google’s process to weed out fake news.
In this case, the tragic shooting was a major moment of crisis and people were willing to see, read and believe anything they could get their hands on. When the next major crisis occurs, people will scour the Internet in search of answers for that too. While the poor man who was accused for hours of being a mass murderer will most likely find no comfort in knowing that, we should make sure we access legitimate news websites where journalists and editors verify and check before running the story.