Alexis C Madrigal writes: In the crucial early hours after the Las Vegas mass shooting, it happened again: Hoaxes, completely unverified rumors, failed witch hunts, and blatant falsehoods spread across the internet.
But they did not do so by themselves: They used the infrastructure that Google and Facebook and YouTube have built to achieve wide distribution. These companies are the most powerful information gatekeepers that the world has ever known, and yet they refuse to take responsibility for their active role in damaging the quality of information reaching the public.
BuzzFeed’s Ryan Broderick found that Google’s “top stories” results surfaced 4chan forum posts about a man that right-wing amateur sleuths had incorrectly identified as the Las Vegas shooter.
4chan is a known source not just of racism, but hoaxes and deliberate misinformation. In any list a human might make of sites to exclude from being labeled as “news,” 4chan would be near the very top.
Yet, there Google was surfacing 4chan as people desperately searched for information about this wrongly accused man, adding fuel to the fire, amplifying the rumor. This is playing an active role in the spread of bad information, poisoning the news ecosystem. [Continue reading…]