Fabrications, hoaxes and other lies about the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas this week which killed at least 59 people and wounded well over 500 others have been spreading rampant on YouTube, and it’s unclear if the video giant has any plans to do anything about it.
Per the Guardian, entering simple search queries like “Las Vegas shooting” into YouTube’s search bar immediately returned a video loudly touting “Proof Las Vegas Shooting Was a FALSE FLAG attack.”
When Gizmodo entered the same query, a video titled “Las Vegas Shooting Narrative Debunked In 3 Videos” floated directly to the top of results below the “Top news” section. YouTube’s suggested queries brought up videos from far-right personalities including conspiracy theorists Alex Jones and Stefan Molyneux, those suggesting post-shooting interviews were conducted in front of a green screen and others asserting the entire attack was a false flag.
Many of the videos disputed mass shooter Stephen Paddock carried out the attack alone or alleged it was part of a conspiracy to bring about a change in gun control laws.
YouTube’s algorithm appeared to be rewarding many of the video creators with large numbers of views, per the Guardian:
After the Guardian watched one questionable video highlighted on the main Las Vegas shooting search page (from a gun rights advocate suggesting the facts didn’t add up), YouTube promoted: “Government Staged Las Vegas Mass Shooting” (215,000 views), “PROOF: MEDIA & LAW ENFORCEMENT ARE LYING ABOUT THE VEGAS SHOOTING” (660,000 views) and “PROOF Las Vegas shooting FALSE FLAG hoax” (70,000 views). The site automatically played a “Las Vegas HOAX Exposed” video (150,000 views).
“When I see my wife fighting for her life with a gunshot wound to her chest, and my daughter was also shot, it’s pretty conclusive evidence that it did happen,” survivors’ relative Stephen Melanson told the Guardian. Witness Krista Metz added, “It’s not a conspiracy. It’s not a joke. It did happen. I was there ... We literally thought we were going to die.”
Google, YouTube’s parent company, has also been driving users to sites deliberately promoting misinformation and conspiratorial ramblings about the attacks in recent days.
Earlier this week, using the search engine to search for the name of a man inaccurately speculated to be the shooter returned multiple top stories from 4chan’s /pol/, a far-right board with well-documented fascist sympathies. Another notoriously inaccurate website, the Gateway Pundit, subsequently labeled the same man as the shooter with a headline claiming he was “a Democrat who liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with Anti-Trump Army.”
Google later told Gizmodo that “within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results,” adding its algorithm generated the links by weighing both “authoritativeness” and whether or not they were “fresh”—essentially an appeal to a faceless algorithm.
Similarly fake stories spread wild on social media sites like Facebook as well, with Facebook offering similar explanations.
As the Outline’s Will Turton noted, the problem is not the algorithm but that they are seemingly “not designed to exclude misinformation or account for bias.”
Google did not respond to a request for comment on this story. We’ll update if we hear back.