How social media trolls capitalized on the Las Vegas shooting

Internet agitators take advantage of the chaos unfolding after the deadliest mass shooting in US history.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
4 min read
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Reported Shooting At Mandalay Bay In Las Vegas

An ambulance leaves an intersection in Las Vegas after a mass shooting at a country music festival nearby on Sunday night.

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A national tragedy became yet another opportunity for trolls across Facebook and Twitter to cause trouble.

Hours after a gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas Strip casino and killed at least 58 people, hoax posts flooded social media. Some people lied about victims. Some spread false information about the shooter. The gunman was found dead at the scene and was identified by police as Stephen Paddock.

The Washington Post has compiled an ongoing list of all the hoaxes springing out of this mass shooting. BuzzFeed News also has a tracker for all the fake news flooding Twitter from the attack in Las Vegas

As the investigation into the deadliest mass shooting in US history unfolds, trolls haven't hesitated to take advantage of people on social media, whether it's to spread propaganda or to pull a prank. These hoaxes frequently happen after public tragedies, a sad reminder that, especially on such occasions, people should be cautious about what they read online.

Just minutes after the shooting unfolded in Las Vegas, trolls took to Twitter to spread the "Sam Hyde" shooter hoax, a meme in which the comedian's photo is posted online blaming any mass shooting on him. The hoax also popped up after the attacks at UCLA and San Bernardino.

There have also been multiple fake posts about people looking for "victims" in the attack, like this tweet, which features a photo that the same account has tweeted in previous tragedies. The photo is actually of a suspect connected to a murder in Mexico.

Several accounts that had posted these fake tweets were suspended by midday Monday, while others remained online.

"We are reviewing and removing content that violates our rules -- both proactively and through reports," a Twitter spokeswoman said.

The name "Geary Danley" had also been a part of misinformation online, thanks to a misidentified Facebook account. During the investigation, police said they were searching for a Marilou Danley, a female companion of Paddock who was overseas at the time. Officers then said she wasn't involved with the shooting.

But before that information was revealed, people online had already been fervently looking for any details. They found a Facebook profile for a Geary Danley, and jumped to the conclusion that he was the gunman.

They looked through his Facebook likes, photos and friends and marked Danley as a mass murderer based on his profile. In an article now deleted by The Gateway Pundit, the publication called Danley a shooter who was "associated with the Anti-Trump Army." The website has misidentified people shortly after tragedies before, The Daily Beast reported.

The hoax grew to hit the first page of Google's search results, with a 4chan /pol/ thread popping up, falsely naming Danley as the shooter. The top result on Google has since been removed, with an apology from Google.

Here's its statement on the mistake:

"Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries. Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results. This should not have appeared for any queries, and we'll continue to make improvements to prevent this from happening in the future."

Facebook had its own share of issues. Just two days after founder Mark Zuckerberg asked for forgiveness for the political divisions to which Facebook has contributed, its Safety Check feature, designed to help people near an emergency tell friends whether they're safe, became a hotbed of trolling.

For several hours after the shooting, there were links on the Safety Check page from "TheAntiMedia.org" and "MyTodayTV.com," which asked for bitcoin donations while advertising "funny video, game show, clip hot" in the URL. Facebook has since cleaned up the page to only host videos and links from official news outlets.

Facebook didn't respond to a request for comment. It provided this statement to various outlets:

"Our Global Security Operations Center spotted the post this morning and removed it. However, its removal was delayed by a few minutes, allowing it 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 Islamic State, meanwhile, claimed the gunman joined IS shortly before committing the mass murder, but the FBI said Paddock had no connection to the terrorist organization. The tweet from the Associated Press about the IS claim has nearly twice as many retweets as the FBI's statement disproving it

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