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Google’s “Popular on Twitter” feature was full of misinformation about the Sutherland Springs shooting

Google’s “Popular on Twitter” feature was full of misinformation about the Sutherland Springs shooting
[Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images]

Just hours after the horrific mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, in which Devin Patrick Kelley reportedly shot and killed 26 churchgoers, Google was surfacing misleading and false information about the tragedy to its users. The search giant’s “Popular on Twitter” feature was pulling in tweets falsely stating that Kelley was a “#MUSLIM Convert, a member of a “Pro Bernie Sanders Group,” and a “radical Alt-left, with potential ties to ANTIFA,” as noted by Justin Hendrix, the executive director of NYC Media Lab. Kelley was actually a Air Force vet who was court-martialed and discharged for “bad conduct” and reportedly doesn’t appear to be linked to any organized terrorist groups.

In a search for Kelley’s name, such content appears just below the “Top stories” module topping the search results, exposing such disinformation to potentially millions of people. By midnight EST on Sunday, the feature included more mainstream sources and accounts.

The prominence of such fake news on the platform echoed the flood of false flag theories that proliferated on YouTube after last month’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

A spokesperson for Google later gave this statement to Gizmodo:

The search results appearing from Twitter, which surface based on our ranking algorithms, are changing second by second and represent a dynamic conversation that is going on in near real-time. For the queries in question, they are not the first results we show on the page. Instead, they appear after news sources, including our Top Stories carousel which we have been constantly updating. We’ll continue to look at ways to improve how we rank tweets that appear in search.

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