Las Vegas shooting: Hoaxes spread on social media, amplified by Facebook, Google

Last Updated Oct 3, 2017 12:20 PM EDT

Not long after gunfire first erupted from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas Sunday night, false information and outright hoaxes began spreading on social media. Fifty-nine people were killed and more than 520 others sustained injuries after a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concert-goers during a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip.

Authorities say the suspect -- who was later identified as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, of Mesquite, Nevada -- was found dead in a hotel room and is believed to have acted alone.

While the investigation is still going on, fake accusations and other misinformation quickly began to spread online. The hoaxes were  amplified by the power of social media giants like Facebook and Google, which initially boosted the visibility of the false stories before realizing their mistake.

Here are some of the hoaxes circulating on social media:

Several Twitter users falsely identified a man named Samir Al-Hajeed as the gunman wanted in connection with the mass shooting. However, it appears that the man holding the gun in the photo is actually comedian Sam Hyde, who has been falsely accused in the aftermath of other attacks, including the UCLA and San Bernardino shootings. It remains unclear why social media users repeatedly circulate Hyde's photo after mass shootings.

Other users have allegedly reported false information about loved ones disappearing amid the chaos.

Twitter user "@pumaexiliado" claimed his brother was stuck inside the hotel, before other users exposed the fact that he had used the same photo to represent other people before.

Another Twitter user reported his nephew was missing, and included a photo of Vine star Lil Terio. The tweet was shared nearly 400 times before it was removed.

The Twitter account holder of "@redevicer" shared an image supposedly of their missing 15-year-old son, asking for help. The tweet was shared nearly 4,000 times before the account was suspended. And Twitter user "@winterr" shared an image of their supposedly missing 14-year-old daughter. The tweet was shared nearly 1,500 times; however, the page for the account appears to have been removed.

Our partner site CNET also reports a man named Geary Danley was misidentified as a possible suspect by amateur detectives scouring the internet. Early in the investigation, police said they were searching for a Marilou Danley, a female companion of Paddock, who was overseas at the time. Officers later said she wasn't believed to be involved in the shooting; nor was Geary Danley.

But the hoax apparently took off after an article (since deleted) on right-wing website The Gateway Pundit called Geary Danley a shooter who was "associated with the Anti-Trump Army." The site has misidentified people shortly after tragedies before, The Daily Beast reported.

As CNET reports, the hoax grew to hit the first page of Google's search results, based on a post on the 4chan internet message board's /pol/ thread falsely naming Danley as the shooter. The top result on Google has since been removed, and Google issued an apology.

"Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries. Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results. This should not have appeared for any queries, and we'll continue to make improvements to prevent this from happening in the future," Google said in a statement.

Facebook, which is already under scrutiny for its role in spreading fake news during the 2016 campaign, had its own share of issues after the Las Vegas shooting. 

Its Safety Check feature, designed to help people tell friends if they're safe in an emergency, became a hotbed of trolling, as CNET reports:

For several hours after the shooting, there were links on the Safety Check page from "TheAntiMedia.org" and "MyTodayTV.com," which asked for bitcoin donations while advertising "funny video, game show, clip hot" in the URL. Facebook has since cleaned up the page to only host videos and links from official news outlets.

Facebook didn't respond to a request for comment. It provided this statement to various outlets:

"Our Global Security Operations Center spotted the post this morning and removed it. However, its removal was delayed by a few minutes, allowing it to be screen captured and circulated online. We are working to fix the issue that allowed this to happen in the first place and deeply regret the confusion this caused."

This isn't the first time that social media trolls have reported false information in wake of an attack. The tragedy of Manchester Arena bombing also gave rise to several hoaxes, including false reports of missing relatives and friends.