There is no denying the fact falsehoods spread like a wildfire on social media, since people are quicker to repeat something that's wrong but sensational than something that's true and comparatively boring.
But the entire blame cannot be dumped on the human nature as partly at fault are platforms that enable lies and conspiracies to spread faster than facts.
Just last month, a Twitter study was conducted in which a decade of its posts were analyzed, focusing on 126,000 examples of false news spread by 2 to 3 million people.
Twitter has long been a valuable source of current affairs as they unfold in real time but its usefulness is greatly being limited by a growing chorus of trolls, counterfeiters and irresponsible commentators.
Although there are several examples of hoax news, the recent shooting at YouTube headquarters is the latest example of how bad Twitter’s misinformation problem is.
Shortly after the first shots were fired, a product manager at the company broke the news of the shooting with a tweet: “Active shooter at YouTube HQ. Heard shots and saw people running while at my desk. Now barricaded inside a room with coworkers.”
Within minutes, large and local news channels got in action and then followed the garbage. There were: 4chan hoaxers trying, once again, to trick people into thinking the shooter was a comedian named Sam Hyde; speculation the shooter was motivated by YouTube censoring political content; speculation it was religiously motivated; photos of supposed shooters in MAGA hats; unconfirmed images of potential victims and inaccurate death tolls; and numerous conflicting reports that the shooter was female, then male, then female again.
A Clinton linked botnet is spreading fake news about the YouTube shooting. pic.twitter.com/aw0VBG5Wje— Swig (@OldRowSwig) April 3, 2018
The Twitter CEO said the misinformation was being tracked and action was being taken — but it kept spreading. The shooting survivor who first broke the news had his account hacked to post juvenile, anti-gay messages, and hoaxes kept rolling in. Twitter took down the offending tweets after Dorsey got involved, but its policy remained the same.
Someone just hacked the account of a YouTube employee who had survived and was tweeting about the shooting. Who the fuck would do this pic.twitter.com/NC5veGNDpj— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) April 3, 2018
Hoaxes that followed after the YouTube shooting is yet another reminder to be wary of information on social media when a chaos is unfolding.
This is not for the first time the social network served up inflammatory media with unverified news.
At the time of the tragic Parkland incident, in which 17 people were killed, hoaxes and disinformation spread on Twitter in aftermath of the shooting. The initial fake tweets misidentified the gunman. A few tweets from a fake Bill O'Reilly account, for example, claimed there were two shooters (one of whom was the actual gunman, Nikolas Cruz) and the other was Sam Hyde. Hyde is a comedian whose photo was also circulated as the alleged shooter in previous tragedies like the ones in San Bernardino and Las Vegas.
Moreover, along with the fake news about the shooter, journalists got impersonated in tweets, which prompted Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to reexamine the companies’ policies.
Back in 2016, Twitter was cram-full with memes citing fake crime stats, designed to bolster right-wing conspiracy theories. Even President Donald Trump couldn’t see through it, but of course, instead of targeting these bogus news sites, the president applied the phrase "fake news" to mainstream outlets like The New York Times, only promulgating the confusion.
In addition, there is a very real possibility that Russia meddled in the U.S. 2016 election, as Twitter discovered more than 2,000 Russia-backed accounts tried to influence the election and clearly succeeded to at least to a certain extent.
Twitter has floated the idea of weeding out tweets, which has characteristics of a scam by creating a fake-news-reporting feature, but so far, little progress has been made in this regard.
Considering the fact the social media site receives heavy traffic of users every day, it should take some responsibility for safeguarding the community from falsehood and disinformation. The hoaxes are no longer just about pranks, they are undermining journalists and credible institutions and at the same time creating chaos in wake of a tragedy.
Banner / Thumbnail : REUTERS/KacperPempel