Whatever it is Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are doing to combat the spread of “fake news” online, it clearly isn’t enough. That's judging by the amount of fabricated nonsense floating around the Internet in the aftermath of another appalling tragedy.
All too predictably, the mass murder committed at the Route 91 open air country-music festival in Las Vegas on Sunday night unleashed a torrent of falsehoods from social media users and political provocateurs. They enjoyed wide distribution on major social-media platforms and even made the jump to “real news," with fleeting acknowledgment by mainstream media.
And it wasn’t just any random lies.
They reflected the nation’s unusually febrile political and cultural mood. The most popular fake-news posts rushed to link the shooting to particular groups, as part of the larger push to further polarize and divide the U.S. population. The intention: leave us in “Gaslight” territory, paranoid and paralyzed, with no idea which way is up.
The main arena for ideological, post-fact skirmishing was the real identity of Steve Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter.
A number of fabricated pieces — including one story on Infowars, run by notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — claimed he was a member of a far-left Antifa organization. Other articles attempted to link Paddock to radical Islam through his girlfriend, while trying to position the shooting as an attack on “patriotic” country-music fans.
In fact, at the time of writing, there is no evidence in support of any of these alleged details, which fly in the face of certain circumstantial evidence. (For what it’s worth, Paddock was said to be a country-music fan himself.)
But, of course, there’s also no proof that they’re untrue, and such evidence may yet be forthcoming. Meantime, the idea that Paddock was a recent Muslim convert was echoed by the terrorist group ISIS, which hasn’t hesitated to present opportunistic claims in the past.
Indeed, the Las Vegas shooting aftermath once again demonstrates how real events, disinformation and propaganda can feed on one another and help maintain the momentum of deceit.
Unfortunately, it also shows how this strange alternative universe can easily migrate from questionable sites to “real news.” For example, the claim that Paddock was a recent Muslim convert was briefly spotlighted by Arutz Sheva, a partisan but relatively respected Israeli news organization, although it was later retracted.