Google and Facebook displayed false information in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, again raising concerns over people’s ability to manipulate the heavily trafficked platforms for social media and news.
The companies said they promptly deleted the material, which had been pulled from websites by algorithms searching for news about the massacre. Shortly after the shooting, the “Top Stories” section of Google’s search results about the incident included a channel from the anonymous messaging board 4chan.org that identified the wrong person as the shooter. The thread has since been re-placed in the search results by news articles.
Google said the 4chan search result only surfaced when people searched for the person wrongly identified as the shooter, a fraction of overall queries. The misinformation appeared in general search results—not its Google News product—an important distinction because Google vets news sources that appear in Google News results, the company said.
Google said it takes various signals into consideration when it comes up with its ranked search results, including the trustworthiness and timeliness of the source.
“Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. “This should not have appeared for any queries, and we’ll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future.”
Facebook’s Trending Topics section for the shooting includes a featured article and a mix of public posts generated by an algorithm. Some people who clicked through saw posts from Sputnik, a Russia-backed news outlet that has come under Justice Department scrutiny. The posts incorrectly reported the suspected shooter had ties to a terrorist group.
After initiating a “Safety Check” for Las Vegas, which provides information as a situation unfolds, Facebook populated the page’s top stories with information from what appeared to be little-known sites, according to screenshots. These stories have since been replaced with news from more prominent outlets such as NBC News.
“Our Global Security Operations Center spotted these posts this morning and we have removed them,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. “However, their removal was delayed, allowing them to be screen captured and circulated online. We are working to fix the issue that allowed this to happen in the first place and deeply regret the confusion this caused.”
The displays of misleading Las Vegas information come as social-media companies face increasing criticism over how they manage platforms that have become a dominant way people find and consume news.