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.

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