The worst mass shooter in American history fired out of a 32nd-floor window of a hotel room in Las Vegas, killing at least 59 people and injuring over 500 more, all of whom came to hear country music on a Sunday evening.
That night, and in the days which follow, the instinct is to ask who and why. To get instant answers, Americans increasingly check their phones, not their televisions. The major social media networks — Facebook, Twitter, and Google — all failed that night.
On an ordinary day or evening, their algorithms are in charge.
On Sunday, October 1, 2017, their algorithms recirculated the worst kind of fake news, created by anonymous evil people to deepen the wounds caused by the evil Stephen Paddock.
We know the shooter’s name. Who else was being evil that night?
At Twitter, individual users — not the company — started patrolling their feeds looking for bots launched just that night, just to exploit the tragedy.
Here is New York Times reporter Alex Burns:
You may not have heard of “Gateway Pundit.” Don’t go looking but they accumulate traffic, and fees, by moving whatever’s the hottest rumors.
Worse yet is “4chan” which describes itself as “a simple image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images anonymously.”
Anonymity, in a word, is the virus and Facebook, Twitter, and Google are its carriers.
Congress is investigating the use of fake social media during the 2016 election, but that inquiry is destined to get its wheels stuck in the mud. Political speech is protected by the First Amendment. The social media networks have additional protection from section 230 of Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which says they are not responsible for the content they carry.
Now, an amendment to a law is always a possibility. More than likely, however, the bots will win. They’re building their own lobby.