The Florida school shooting Wednesday afforded a glimpse into how digital platforms, often the first source of information when catastrophic events occur, are seeking to tamp down on “fake news.”
The platforms have been criticized for contributing to the spread of misleading, offensive and downright false information. In the aftermath of the deadly mass shooting last October in Las Vegas, Google came under fire for including among its “top stories” conspiracy-filled links from 4chan, a haven for Internet trolls, that identified the wrong assailant.
That didn’t seem to happen following Wednesday’s deadly shooting. Google searches for the 19-year-old former student charged in the mass killing returned results from established news outlets, such as the Miami Herald, WPLG Local 10 television station in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and the New York Times.
“We’ve adjusted our signals to help surface more authoritative content and demote low-quality content, so that results that promote misinformation are less likely to appear,” said a Google spokesperson.
The search giant announced a major initiative last April to identify low-quality websites that peddle in hoaxes, unsupported conspiracy theories and misleading information — and demotes the content in search results.
Twitter, meanwhile, drew from its network of broadcast partnerships to stream hours of live footage from Miami’s WSVN 7 to the timelines of U.S. users. That provided a credible source of information about the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
At one point, the live video attracted more than 50,000 Twitter users watching from around the country.
“We’re continuing to work on new ways we can surface credible and relevant information to help people stay informed,” Twitter video GM Kayvon Beykpour said in a statement to Deadline.
The changes appear to reflect a heightened corporate focus on tackling the problem of fake news.
“These companies all have tremendous engineering capabilities,” said Gabriel Kahn, a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “Until now they haven’t addressed these issues with the same urgency as issues they think are more core to their business.”