SAN FRANCISCO — False information about the Las Vegas mass shooting from 4chan was a top story on Google before it was debunked.
Links to the 4chan website falsely identified the shooter as Geary Danley, calling him a leftist and Democratic supporter. The misinformation gained traction after Internet sleuths scoured social media to identify the gunman faster than police, and the erroneous report appeared at the top of Google results for searches on Danley. BuzzFeed's Ryan Broderick spotted the link.
One conservative writer, Joe Hoft, published and then retracted an article about Danley: "Las Vegas Shooter Reportedly a Democrat Who Liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with Anti-Trump Army."
Police later identified Stephen Paddock as the culprit in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history that killed at least 58, wounding 515 more.
Far-right trolls are creating a conspiracy theory about Geary Danley. He was listed as being married to person of interest Marilou Danley. pic.twitter.com/fy0LstFKJC— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) October 2, 2017
The episode marked yet another illustration of how quickly misinformation can spread during major breaking news events on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan — an anonymous online message board — and other Internet services when few official details have been released by authorities.
wwwBut in this case, Google amplified the false information as millions searched for information about the gunman in the hours after the attack.
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Google says the 4chan search result appeared for queries that included Danley's name but did not appear for general queries for the shooting. That represented a small number of queries, though Google did not specify how many.
The search result did not appear on Google News, but in the "Top Stories" section of search that highlights breaking news and includes content from news outlets and from the Web, according to Google. That was triggered because Google searches prior to the 4chan speculation didn't surface much about Danley.
The Silicon Valley company blamed computer algorithms for the slip-up and said it would work to improve them.
"Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our search results for a small number of queries," Google said in an emailed 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."
In April, Google said it was combatting fake news on its search engine with new tools that allow users to report misleading or inaccurate content. It said it would improve search results that are generated by its algorithm.
The Google gaffe comes as Facebook and Twitter are facing a sharp backlash for fake posts and inflammatory ads out of Russia on politically divisive issues that targeted users on the social media services during the presidential election. Google, too, says it's searching for evidence of Russian meddling.
People spread false reports about the gunman on Facebook and Twitter, too. On its "safety check" page, Facebook linked to an article from an alt-right blog, which suggested the concert was "more like the kind of target a left-wing nutjob would choose."
this is the 3rd paragraph of the Alt-Right-News article that FB surfaced on its safety check feed (trying to gin up political division ) pic.twitter.com/I9draVDMrY— Charlie Warzel (@cwarzel) October 2, 2017
On Twitter, conservative political activist and journalist Laura Loomer suggested Islamic terror groups were responsible for the mass shooting.
ISIS has reportedly taken credit for the attack, but U.S. law enforcement officials have dismissed that suggestion. Aaron Rouse, chief of the FBI’s Las Vegas office, said the agency had found "no connection" between Paddock and terror organizations. ISIS often takes credit for attacks by individuals with no known links to the group.