Although October 1, 2017, will go down in history as the day the worst mass shooting in modern US history took place, it will also be remembered as the day when fake news took over the internet.
In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, stories sprang up of accounts concerning what took place, as is often the case in this new age of social media. However, what happened next not only took the proliferation of fake news to another level and almost ruined the life of an innocent man, it also underscored what has become an alarming trend of false and misleading information getting to news consumers before being properly verified.
These fake news stories made their way to some larger media outlets and even managed to get into top spots on internet search engines before anyone could act to stem the flow of disinformation. Perhaps the most concerning of all was how rapidly the false stories took hold and the apparent willingness of people to believe and spread them without any credible evidence.
Literally moments after the shooting that killed at least 58 people and injured scores of others, the rumors began swirling, with reports attributing the massacre to the group Antifa while others blamed “Communist Liberals” after someone linked the name of Geary Danley to the incident. Danley reportedly had a Facebook page labeling himself as anti-Trump and a Democrat, along with other seemingly incriminating “evidence.”
Within hours, websites such as Alex Jones’ Infowars were abuzz with stories and comment threads linking the Las Vegas gunman to everyone from the terror group ISIS to billionaire George Soros. Infowars, which touts itself as an alternative media outlet purportedly reaches several million viewers each day.
To add to the mayhem, Facebook and search engine giant, Google, apparently allowed most of the fake stories to slip past safeguards in place that were supposed to filter out fake news reports. Eventually, Stephen Paddock, the name of the real gunman, according to law enforcement officials, replaced Geary Danley’s and is now rightfully receiving the infamy it richly deserves, but not before an innocent man briefly became one of the most hated people in recorded history and the trolls found themselves temporarily in control of a news cycle.
The internet and the advent of today’s social media has given insight into events and access to places in ways only dreamed of in the past. It has brought people closer on a global scale, even as it has exposed tyranny and highlighted the farthest corners of the world, but like almost everything else there is a down side.
It is now a sobering fact that the same technology that brings us together can also be used to tear us apart by those who would deliberately and systematically attempt to exploit our darkest fears and deepest hatreds. Somewhere out in the vastness of cyberspace lurks enemies, poised to infiltrate, confound and attack by sowing seeds of discord.
If critical thinking and common sense do not prevail, we may soon find ourselves in a very dark place, while our foes revel as we descend into chaos.
[Featured Image by Leon Neal/Getty Images]