A 4Chan message thread that had incorrectly identified the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay shooter was promoted by Google’s “Top Stories” widget, leading to much confusion online.
In the immediate aftermath following the shooting at a Las Vegas concert that left at least 59 people dead, misinformation began to circulate the Interwebs at lightning speed.
And it isn’t just the almost-inevitable errors from mainstream media scrambling to be the first to release breaking news that is responsible for this misinformation. The fake news industry – an industry that sadly now exploits all incidents like this – was in overdrive, only hours after the final shots rang out.
However it was neither the mainstream media nor the fake news industry that were to blame for perhaps the most popular mistruth to spread online about the Las Vegas shooting. Instead it was something else we’re all too familiar with in the aftermaths of these events; amateur sleuthing gone awry.
A popular 4Chan message thread had incorrectly identified the shooter as a man named Geary Danley, who shares his surname with a woman who was briefly named by police as a person of interest in the shooting. The “online detectives” at 4Chan orchestrated a circumstantial and shoddy “investigation” and ultimately outputted the wrong man.
But to amplify the problem, Google got involved. While many may reasonably assume that those links appearing at the top of Google’s results in their Top Stories widgets may have been vetted as credible, you would be wrong. Stories that appear in that widget are selected automatically by algorithms, which from experience is when things usually start to go downhill.
Previously, conspiracy theories about climate change have appeared in the Top Stories widget as well as a number of fake news websites.
The whole thing resulted in the fact that for some time during the day after the shooting, whenever someone entered the name of the man incorrectly identified as the shooter, the 4Chan message thread appeared in the Top Stories widget identifying that man, which helped push this fake news story further across the Internet.
Also, apparently Google is putting 4chan threads in their top story unit now? So, the number one hit for his name is a /pol/ thread. pic.twitter.com/OYwW6pbWvy
— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) October 2, 2017
Tech blog Gizmodo reached out to Google for comment who, unsurprisingly, blamed the whole thing on their algorithms.