One of the best parts about the internet age, especially now with social media sites, is that information can be distributed quickly and broadly.
One of the worst parts about the internet age, especially now with social media sites, is that disinformation -- fake news -- can be distributed quickly and broadly.
Despite a renewed focus on combating things like fake news and spam stories, keeping them away from people has proven to be nearly impossible. Like in the wake of last week's shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, which left 10 people dead and 10 injured.
The hoaxers got their word out fast
Obviously hoaxers are not the greatest concern when something like this happens. That, of course, is for the families and friends of the victims, who are now dealing with an unbearable kind of pain.
But when it comes to trying to make sense of what has happened, there are many outlets to turn to. Many go right to the internet, where there are plenty of reputable sources as well as, unfortunately, quite a few whose goal is to mislead and deceive.
They do not take long to get to work, either.
Within hours after news of the shooting broke, hoaxers started sharing lies about who the shooter was, as well as other aspects of the tragedy. Winston Churchill once said, "a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth puts on its boots," and he was absolutely right.
Though, nowadays the falsehood can have an even greater reach.
Why do they do it?
It is not clear who created the fake accounts, though it's safe to assume there are many different people and entities doing it for a multitude of reasons.
Some are likely motivated by politics, or at least meant to sow doubt in some minds while poisoning others. Other people probably do it simply because they can.
— Chris Sampson (@TAPSTRIMEDIA) May 18, 2018
When something this tragic happens, most people react with sadness, anger, desperation or compassion. Others feel like the best thing they can do is lie, and try to convince others that their lies are the truth.
In today's world, where people are more apt to believe in conspiracy theories and be less trusting of traditional news sources, is ripe for their work.
When it comes to stopping it, Facebook is pretty useless
Despite a self-professed focus on keeping fake news and abusive posts off of their platforms, both are still able to thrive. In the aftermath of the shooting, Facebook removed not only the alleged shooter's actual account, but was working to keep the fake profiles away, too.
The fake accounts were reported and deleted, but new ones were created to replace them almost as quickly as they were being removed.
This falls in line with what Facebook has been doing since the beginning of the year, where it has disabled more than 500 million fake accounts. However, even they admitted there were probably still tens of millions still online.
Facebook was not the only platform dealing with fake information, as Twitter also had to combat it. According to Christopher Bouzy, whose site "Bot Sentinel" tracks automated Twitter accounts, four of the top 10 phrases tweeted by accounts that are either bots or trolls were related to the Santa Fe shooting.
It took less than three hours for it to happen.
So can anything be done?
The fact that fake news and information are not only produced, but spread around the world is not a new concept. Because of that, sites like Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube have been examining their models and policies in hopes of keeping it away.
Accounts are often disabled and posts removed, but not before they inflict at least a little damage. Facebook has roughly 10,000 human moderators who are keeping an eye on their site, while Twitter and YouTube also have people monitoring the content.
Clearly, whatever they are doing is not enough.
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