Social-media sites deliver fake news
In the time since Las Vegas police stormed Stephen Paddock’s hotel room at Mandalay Bay, finding him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and surrounded by a personal arsenal, we’ve learned quite a bit about him.
We know he was 64, had a house in Reno, a brother in Florida and a girlfriend he sent to the Philippines. We know he was a real estate investor and a gambler. We know he expressed no specific political ideology.
This is real, factual, vetted news, and anyone can find it online. But in the hours after Paddock fired bullets into a crowded country music festival, hitting 547 people in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, facts were hard to distinguish from falsehoods on Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Hoaxes and conspiracy theories got dredged from the sewage-like depths of the internet. Wildly false rumors were dressed up as truth and put into widespread circulation. Items on the notoriously toxic 4chan network and Russian propaganda site Sputnik claimed the shooter was a liberal who hated President Donald Trump and loved MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, and was tied to Islamic State terrorists.
Once again, the Silicon Valley platforms that dominate public discourse and serve as a de facto source of information for billions delivered fake news that was damaging and confusing. How long will this go on? Two-thirds of American adults now get their news from social media. Facebook alone reaches a quarter of the human race. It may not be uncommon for an explosive new technology to get out ahead of its creators, and surely the explosion of social media has rewarded its shareholders. But the rest of us can’t afford to wait much longer for some effective quality control, and some accountability.