Days after massive gun reform marches took place across the country, news outlets faced the horror of another mass shooting. A woman shot three people at YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., on Tuesday before killing herself.
Incorrect reports soon after the shooting spread quickly on social media, leading many media organizations to call out the inaccuracies.
Newsweek got blasted by journalists on Twitter for inaccurately reporting that dozens of people were shot based on unconfirmed reports from local police scanners.
JFC, don't report the scanner! You guys should know better.
— Clara Jeffery (@ClaraJeffery) April 3, 2018
“While the actual number of injuries from the shooting is still unknown, Newsweek made the classic media mistake of trying to be first to report on a tragedy in their post on the shooting,” wrote Caleb Ecarma for Mediaite. “However, as many media figures were quick to point out, basing injury counts on police scanner activity goes against all notions of journalistic integrity, since that information is not confirmed in any real sense.”
Newsweek took down the article and “updated” its breaking news tweet with a much lower estimate.
— Justin Fenton (@justin_fenton) April 3, 2018
Social media often provides quick and in-person accounts during moments of tragedy before reporters can get to the scene. In the case of the YouTube shooting, social media also served as a platform for fake news to easily spread.
BBC reported that Vadim Lavrusik, a YouTube product manager and verified Twitter user, live-tweeted developments from inside headquarters.
His account was hacked, though, soon after he marked himself as safe, and the hoaxer tweeted homophobic and inaccurate information. Twitter users reported the tweets and Lavrusik confirmed that he got his account back.
— Vadim Lavrusik (@Lavrusik) April 3, 2018
“Even after Twitter executives became aware of the compromise, hoax tweets were still being regularly posted to Lavrusik’s account, only to be instantly deleted. It’s still unclear how the account was first compromised,” wrote The Verge’s Russell Brandom. “Twitter has struggled with misinformation around breaking news events in the past, and a number of other YouTube celebrities have already been erroneously reported as involved in today’s shooting.”
Rumors circulated that Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg was headed to San Bruno, which did not happen. Buzzfeed reporter Jane Lytvynenko did her best to disprove the fake reports revealing the identity of the shooter, including ones pinning the blame on comedian Sam Hyde.
Someone even attempted to frame Lytvynenko herself as the shooter (perhaps in jest, and in poor taste).
False claims about crisis actors and that YouTuber Matt Jarbo was behind the shooting also surfaced on Twitter, CNET reported.
In early March, the journal Science released a study that found fake news stories spread faster and farther than the truth on Twitter.
“This is the problem with getting news from Twitter,” wrote Vox’s Brian Resnick in a piece on that study. “So often it arrives in our feeds filtered through the human emotional system. The most viral tweets are the ones that tug on our heartstrings. And fake news is often designed with this in mind.”
Vox analyzed the study’s findings and potential shortcomings, ultimately concluding that the momentum fake news has on Twitter is unsettling.
“Twitter wants to be a go-to source for breaking news,” Resnick wrote. “It also wants to provide its users with an engaging, validating experience. Those two goals might always be in conflict. Meanwhile, it’s profiting (in part) off people engaging and spreading in fake content.”
The battle over fake news on social media is not new, but the pressure for prevention is growing. Facebook is scrubbing Russia-linked pages linked to an organization known for creating fake identities. CBS News reported that YouTube is going after conspiracy theories after facing criticisms for allowing falsehoods to spread on the site.
Whether or not social media sites take more action to prevent the spreading of fake news, journalists must stay extra cautious with information shared on platforms during moments of crisis–or risk credibility on these platforms.