Friday, 24 November 2017

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The term 'fake news' (Collins Dictionary's 2017 word of the year) has been thrown around a lot lately, but in some cases Donald Trump's favourite phrase is appropriate. Monday's (Sunday US time) mass shooting at a Texas church has been the subject of a torrent of misinformation and false narratives, making it the most recent tragedy to spark dozens of false rumours. Social media has been instrumental in the spread of misinformation, whether intentional or not. The ability to reach an audience of millions in seconds has proven both a blessing and a curse for those in search of information about breaking news stories. Twitter is often the birthplace of lies about recent tragedies, from users claiming to know an attacker's political motivations to fake social media posts about missing people. In a serious design flaw, search engine algorithms have also legitimised misinformation. Google and YouTube amplified false claims by bringing up tweets and videos claiming the Texas gunman was an 'Antifa' member among the first results for the suspect's name. For more than 24 hours after the attack, both Google and YouTube search bars featured "antifa" as the first autocomplete suggestion for users who typed in his name. Thanks to the ease with which rumours can spread online, multiple false narratives had already taken root before authorities revealed any verified information.

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