In the immediate aftermath of Sunday night’s Las Vegas mass shooting, right-wing internet trolls circulated stories falsely claiming that gunman the had been identified as Geary Danley, whom the conservative site Gateway Pundit described as a “far left loon,” in a post which has since been deleted — but as of early Monday afternoon could be still be viewed in an archived version at this link.
While such fake news stories have been common among right-wing outlets, even those such as Gateway Pundit that currently enjoy White House press credentials granted by the Donald Trump administration, the “Geary Danley” story got a surprising boost from the dominant internet search engine Google.
The phony Danley story was also pushed by 4Chan, an online message board popular among adherents of the so-called “alt-right” movement, and which has frequently been the launching pad for false news stories and hoaxes in the past. One 4Chan post even implored users to deliberately “push the fact that this terrorist was a commie.”
With the name “Geary Danley” suddenly circulating online, Google users not surprisingly searched for the name and what they found was that Google’s algorithm — the automated program that ranks internet postings in Google’s search results — had selected not just one but two 4Chan threads as “Top Story” results when users searched for “Geary Danley.”
Also, apparently Google is putting 4chan threads in their top story unit now? So, the number one hit for his name is a /pol/ thread. pic.twitter.com/OYwW6pbWvy
— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) October 2, 2017
Facebook, which also uses an algorithm to select and rank posts, fell for the same right-wing hoax, posting the Gateway Pundit story on its “Safety Check” page for the Las Vegas mass shooting. The Facebook feature is designed to provide relevant news about dangerous crises such as terror attacks and natural disasters, as well as to allow Facebook users to “connect with friends and family and find and give help after a crisis.”
But at least for a short time, the Facebook Las Vegas shooting crisis response page featured a story identifying the possible shooter as “a Trump-hating Rachel Maddow fan.” Facebook issued a statement to CNN late Monday morning saying that members of the Facebook staff “deeply regret the confusion this caused.”
Facebook spox to me on site’s listing of a Gateway Pundit story earlier on Crisis Response page pic.twitter.com/aaaIB2GvMS
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) October 2, 2017
Google also issued a statement claiming that the 4Chan hoax threads in its “Top Stories” results were seen by only “a small number” of users searching for “Geary Danley.” The Google statement went on to say that the false Gateway Pundit story was “algorithmically replaced” by results that were “relevant.”
Google statement on how a 4chan thread identifying the wrong man as LV shooter showed up “in the news” pic.twitter.com/9dOTvQ5Qgt
— Daisuke Wakabayashi (@daiwaka) October 2, 2017
The man police have named as the actual shooter, Stephen Paddock, was reportedly in a romantic relationship with a woman named Marilou Danley, who, according to a story in the Reno Gazette-Journal, had previously been married to Geary Danley. The ex-husband of Marilou Danley currently resides in Arkansas. The couple were divorced in February of 2015, a time when Marilou Danley lived in a Reno condominium unit owned by Paddock, the paper reported.
LAS VEGAS SHOOTING: Gunman Stephen Paddock Kills 50 People
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) October 2, 2017
By “doxxing,” that is, searching through personal information on Marilou Danley available online, 4Chan users apparently made the connection with Geary Danley and found that on Danley’s social media accounts he “liked” several pages opposing Donald Trump or promoting liberal causes, according to a report by the news site Mashable.
Though the inner workings of the Google and Facebook algorithms are secrets closely guarded by the two internet titans, congressional investigators are now prodding the two companies to reveal details of how the algorithms select and rank stories in their search results and news feeds, according to a Politico report. The congressional push for greater “transparency” regarding the algorithms is part of the ongoing probe into how the Russian government meddled in the 2016 presidential election, in part by spreading fake news and hoaxes online — false stories that were often highlighted by the algorithms.
[Featured Image by John Locher/AP Images]