In the aftermath of the tragic Sutherland Springs shooting, the Internet demonstrated once again that it is incapable of shutting down deliberate fake news, with many baseless and wholly unsubstantiated conspiracy theories given a boost by the likes of Google, Google-owned YouTube and even mainstream media outlets.
When tragic events like mass shootings occur, a variety of misinformation will attempt to spread online. That has sadly become inevitable. There are just too many in the business of pushing fake news on whatever platform will allow them to do so.
As a society, we are politically and ideologically divided, arguably more so than we have been for a long time. This alone provides sufficient motivation for many to push misinformation onto others that targets those on the other side of the fence. But when you add to the mix that the Internet and social media have allowed the publication of fake news to be also a financially profitable venture, then it is clear that people are going to publish and spread misinformation for as long as it can capture its undeserved audience.
While the Internet should of course be a platform for all points of view, if it cannot silence those who are in the business are pushing deliberate fake news or unfounded theories – much of which is designed to anger one side against another – then the outlook for the future isn’t bright.
During the days immediately following the tragic shooting of 26 people in a church in Texas, one particular story managed to circulate virally across the Internet that claimed the shooter – Devin Patrick Kelley – was a member of Antifa.
The shooting occurred to the backdrop of a number of fake news stories spreading about a possible mass attack by Antifa members, and when the location of the deadly shooting was revealed – a small community church in Texas – many high profile personalities had no problem openly speculating to their followers that this could have been an Antifa terror attack.
Mass shooting at The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, which has a largely white denomination.
Antifa terrorist attack?
— Mike Cernovich 🇺🇸 (@Cernovich) November 5, 2017
Persistent purveyor of nonsense Alex Jones also labelled the shooter as an “Antifa killer” in a particularly irresponsible tweet that also claimed Antifa members were “dreaming of violent revolutionary action”, tweeted only mere hours after the shooting occurred…
Antifa killer attacks Texas church killing 26 fulfilling the groups dream for violent revolutionary action!
The speculation spurred a plethora of tweets linking the shooter Devin Patrick Kelley to the Antifa movement, and soon enough, merely typing in his name into Google turned up a variety of tweets at the top of the search results falsely linking him to the anti-fascist group.
With speculation and accusations rife, it was the perfect time for the fake news industry to enter the fray. YourNewsWire.com got there first, publishing a lengthy article bustling with baseless claims including the assertion that Kelley was an Antifa member looking for a “communist revolution”, that he had took an Antifa flag with his to the church and that he forced his victims to recite passages from the Bible before killing them.
That fake article used fake images purportedly showing Kelley’s Facebook page with an Antifa flag digitally stitched onto it. Such images were distributed widely across social media. The YourNewsWire.com article spread virally across the Internet, and then – in true conspiracy theory fashion – the YouTube videos began appearing, all of which also used the fake Facebook profiles as definite proof that Kelley was indeed an Antifa member.
While many mainstream media outlets steered clear of the conspiracy fodder, many that did report on it did so in a way that would only fuel the rumours. In a world where it is often only the headline that gets read, NewsWeek.com sparked much criticism for running with the headline “ANTIFA” RESPONSIBLE FOR SUTHERLAND SPRINGS MURDERS, ACCORDING TO FAR-RIGHT MEDIA”
Of course, none of these stories are based in any truth. As the investigation continues into Devin Patrick Kelley, no links to Antifa have merged and early statements from authorites state the Kelley’s motivation may have been sparked by a domestic dispute between his in-laws who regularly frequent the church he targeted.
The Internet must do better at stamping such deliberate fake news out. From the individual user who must take responsibility for the information they share, to the Internet companies that must determine a path that will allow them to determine between different perspectives and those intent on distributing intentionally fake news.