Facebook and Google promote politicized fake news about Las Vegas shooter

Facebook and Google promoted false news stories claiming that the shooter who killed more than 50 people in Las Vegas was a Democrat who opposed Donald Trump. The misidentification spread rapidly from dark corners of the internet to mainstream platforms just hours after hundreds were injured at a festival near the Mandalay Bay casino, the latest example of fake news polluting social media amid a breaking news story.

The flow of misinformation on Monday illustrated a particularly grim trend that has increasingly dominated viral online propaganda during US mass shootings – hyper-partisan trolls battling to blame the tragedy on opposing political ideologies.

On 4chan, the anonymous message board and a favorite platform of the “alt-right”, some noted that Danley was a registered Democrat. Soon after, Gateway Pundit, a conspiracy-laden blog that earned White House credentials under Trump, published an evidence-free story headlined, “Las Vegas Shooter Reportedly a Democrat Who Liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with Anti-Trump Army”. The piece was based on a review of Facebook “likes”.

Despite the fact that the claims were unproven and coming from non-credible sources, Facebook’s “Safety Check” page, which is supposed to help people connect with loved ones during the crisis, ended up briefly promoting a story that said the shooter had “Trump-hating” views, along with links to a number of other hoaxes and scams, according to screenshots. At the same time, Google users who searched Geary Danley’s name were at one point directed to the 4chan thread filled with false claims.

The rightwing users’ successful manipulation of social media algorithms to politicize a tragedy speaks to a relatively new pattern of online abuse. While users of Twitter and Reddit memorably misidentified the suspect behind the Boston marathon bombing in 2013, fake news during global tragedies and terrorist attacks over the last year has increasingly gone beyond careless reporting and retweeting to overt exploitation and targeted disinformation campaigns.

“It’s getting more polarized. There’s this mad scramble to paint the guy as a Democrat or a Republican, so they can cheer,” Brooke Binkowski, managing editor of fact-checking website Snopes.com, said in an interview. “A lot of this is pushed by trolls deliberately to muddy the conversation.”

False content can quickly move from social media to legitimate news sources, she added: “People are putting out crap information on purpose … It’s really easy to get shit into the news cycle by being on Twitter.”

On the flipside, some conservatives on Twitter have theorized that leftwing social media users have attempted to falsely paint Paddock as a rightwing individual. Some have speculated that liberals are posing as white nationalists and Trump supporters and following a Twitter account that has the same name as the suspect, in hopes of proving he is a conservative.

In reality, the suspect had no known “affiliations” that could explain the massacre, according to one of his brothers, who spoke out on Monday.

Beyond the politically charged fake news, a wide range of hoaxes and irresponsible reporting clouded social media on Monday. A number of viral tweets posted fake accounts of missing victims, according to BuzzFeed.

Some celebrities were also quick to spread unverified claims before police had offered any official confirmation of the basic facts of the shooting. Sia, a pop singer and songwriter with 3.2 million followers on Twitter, posted that 20 people were dead before police had released details on the number of casualties, adding, “take cover there are multiple shooters on the loose”.

Police have said there were no other suspects.

Source: This Guardian newspaper article.

 

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The Guardian view on Donald Trump and racism: a moral failure that shames America

‘Mr Trump utterly failed in his primary duty to uphold equality and speak the truth about the racist violence that had taken place.’ Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

As George W Bush’s speechwriter put it this weekend, it is one of the “difficult but primary duties” of a political leader to speak for a nation in traumatic times. A space shuttle explodes, a school student goes on a shooting spree, a terrorist flies a plane into a building, a hurricane floods a city. When such things happen, Michael Gerson wrote in the Washington Post, “It falls to the president to express something of the nation’s soul.” Yet if Donald Trump’s words about the violent white extremist mobilisation in Virginia on Saturday – which an under-pressure White House was desperately trying to clarify on Sunday – are an expression of its soul, America may be on the road to perdition.

The original United States of America was built on white supremacy. The US constitution of 1787 treated black slaves as equivalent to three-fifths of a free white and gave no rights at all to Native Americans, who were regarded as belonging to their own nations. After the civil war, Jim Crow laws enforced segregation across the defeated south and comprehensively disfranchised African Americans for nearly a century. Writing Mein Kampf in the 1920s, Adolf Hitler praised America’s institutional racism as a model from which Nazi Germany could learn. Only in the postwar period, and then slowly and incompletely, was meaningful racial equality pursued by the land of the free.

Yet, while American racism has extremely deep and tenacious historical roots, without which the events in Virginia on Saturday cannot be properly understood, some large things have changed for the better over the past 60 or so years. Equal rights have been enforced. Equality has been embraced. America has elected a black president. It would be difficult to imagine any US president of this more recent period, of whatever party, who would not have responded to the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville with anything except explicit condemnation and disgust. Any president, that is, until this one.

There is absolutely no moral equivalence between the fanatical white supremacists who rallied in the Virginia city on Saturday and the equality defenders who demonstrated peacefully against them, one of whom was rammed and killed by a speeding car allegedly driven by a man who had attended the neo-Nazi rally. The supremacists hate black people and Jews, and regard white people as superior. They talk portentously about blood, soil and the right to bear arms. They admire Hitler and give Nazi salutes. They fly the flags of the pro-slavery Confederacy – the ostensible cause of their rallies this summer is Charlottesville’s decision, more than 150 years after the south’s surrender, to remove a statue of Robert E Lee from a park. And one of them committed the sort of act that was rightly called terrorism when it occurred in Nice, Berlin and London.

Yet, in his first response on Saturday, Mr Trump utterly failed in his primary duty to uphold equality and speak the truth about the racist violence that had taken place. Instead of placing the blame where it belonged, on the supremacists and Klansmen who triggered these events, and rather than stand up for the indivisibility of equality and tolerance before the law, Mr Trump’s words were by turns slippery, banal and morally compromised. It was not true that the violence in Charlottesville came from “many sides”, as Mr Trump evasively said, before repeating his evasion. It is the head of state’s duty to stand up, explicitly and unequivocally, against racists and those who promote racial violence. Mr Trump was found wanting.

Read the complete article in The Guardian newspaper.

Steve Bannon: Trump is ‘maniacally focused’ on executing promises

Steve Bannon’s description of the press as ‘the corporatist, globalist media’ was met with applause and whoops among the crowd at CPAC. Photograph: Mike Theiler/AFP/Getty Images

Steve Bannon’s description of the press as ‘the corporatist, globalist media’ was met with applause and whoops among the crowd at CPAC. Photograph: Mike Theiler/AFP/Getty Images

Steve Bannon, the man seen as the power behind Donald Trump’s throne, has declared that the president will take the US back from a “corporatist, globalist media” that opposes his brand of economic nationalism.

Trump is “maniacally focused” on fulfilling his campaign pledges, Bannon warned, predicting a daily fight against the media he has branded as the opposition party.

“The mainstream media ought to understand something: all those promises are going to be implemented,” Bannon told a gathering of thousands of conservatives near Washington on Thursday, who feted him and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.

Bannon is a liberal bete noire whose confrontational, populist brand of Republican politics also upends decades of conservative orthodoxy. He has emerged as Trump’s most powerful aide and been dubbed “Trump’s Rasputin” or, in Twitter speak, #PresidentBannon. On Thursday, he stepped out of the shadows to make rare public remarks.

“Every day is going to be a fight. That is the promise of Donald Trump … All the people who’ve came in and said you’ve got to moderate. Every day in the Oval Office he tells Reinceand I: ‘I committed this to the American people, I promised this when I ran, and I’m going to deliver on this.” The crowd at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) erupted in cheers and applause, with some delegates standing and punching the air.

It was a very rare public appearance for Bannon, 63, who cut a casual figure with a dark open-necked shirt and light beige trousers. He sat on stage alongside Priebus, in a more traditional suit and tie, as the pair made their latest attempt to bury reports of discord. “We’re basically together from 6.30 in the morning to 11 at night,” Priebus said, in adjoining offices.

But Bannon, who described his own West Wing office as the “war room”, soon launched into his attacks on the media. “If you look at the opposition party and how they portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition, how they portrayed the administration, it’s always wrong.”

Bannon is a near constant presence every time cameras cover a Trump press conference or follow him into the Oval Office. He has gained a place on the “principals committee” of the National Security Council, elevating him above the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the director of national intelligence.

Kellyanne Conway at CPAC: ‘Women don’t like women in power’

Dan Cassino, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said: “It seems like we are getting his ideas coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth to a great extent.

“I think we are seeing Bannon’s influence in Israel policy: the idea we have to support a militarily strong Israel and the coexistence in the Oslo process for two decades needs to be thrown out. That tells us he has a lot of influence and he wasn’t kidding about this.”

Crucially, Cassino argues, Bannon determines what media Trump consumes and shapes his worldview. “The information flow seems to be going through Breitbart and Fox News rather than through the national security apparatus. That’s troubling. It points to the influence of Bannon and how the other people briefing him are not having influence.”

A few “Make America Great Again” caps were visible among the attendees but establishment Republican senators, congressmen and governors were relatively scarce.

The pro-Trump Breitbart News was prominent. The tone was triumphant and aggressive, championing gun ownership rights and tough law enforcement while criticising and mocking liberals.

But tensions were clear as Dan Schneider, leader of the American Conservative Union, took the stage to denounce the “alt-right”, the rebranding of the far right that has been accused of racism, Islamophobia and neo-Nazism. “There is a sinister organization that is trying to worm its way into our ranks and we must not be duped,” he told the audience. “Just a few years ago, this hate-filled leftwing fascist group hijacked the very term ‘alt-right’.

“That term, alt-right – it had been used for a long time in a very good and normal way, but this group has hijacked it. We must not allow them to be normalised. They are not part of us.”

Schneider added: “They are antisemites. They are racist. They are sexist. They hate the constitution. They hate free markets. They hate pluralism. They hate everything and despise everything we believe in.”

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.