Google News took the unusual step of confirming its use of the imageboard site 4chan as a news source on Monday. The admission followed Google News’ propagation of an incorrect name as a potential shooter in the tragic Las Vegas shooting on Sunday night.
A reporter from tech-news site The Outline posted the full text of an e-mail he received from an unnamed Google representative. Reporter William Turton said that he had not discussed any “attribution terms” before receiving Google’s e-mail, which confirmed that the Google News service was bombed into automatically reposting a false shooter’s name.
The incorrect shooter’s name, which Ars Technica will not repost to reduce any further robo-aggregated hits, began appearing on 4chan’s “pol” board, which is infamous for pushing intentionally inflammatory content. The name appeared on the board when its members began looking through people connected to names that had been mentioned by Las Vegas investigators. One of those people—a sibling of a person of interest who was later cleared by Vegas police of wrongdoing—had social-media attachments to left-leaning subjects such asand MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show. Both 4chan and right-wing misinformation sites like Gateway Pundit began spreading the false name as a suspect while calling the person a “far-left loon.” (GP’s article has since been removed, but a Google Cache of it still exists.)
Google News’ statement claims that these false reports landed on the service’s “Top Stories” feed due to a burst of activity for a name that had never received many search attempts. “When the fresh 4chan story broke, it triggered Top Stories, which unfortunately led to this inaccurate result,” the statement reads.
“We use a number of signals to determine the ranking of results—this includes both the authoritativeness of a site as well as how fresh it is,” the statement continues. “We’re constantly working to improve the balance and, in this case, did not get it right.”
4chan’s inclusion anywhere near Google News’ “authoritative” list is a troubling one, since 4chan users have consistently and repeatedly used the site to promote false stories about newsworthy figures. As of press time, Google has not responded to Ars’ request to confirm the legitimacy of this reposted e-mail.
Facebook admitted to a CNN reporter to having the same false information appear on its “Crisis Response” page for “a few minutes” on Monday. “We are working to fix the issue that allowed this to happen,” the Facebook representative told CNN.