Information spreads quickly after mass shootings, as people frantically try to find out what happened. But misinformation spreads even faster.
After the shooting Sunday night at the Route 91 Harvest Festival near the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas killed at least 50 people and injured hundreds more, online trolls started circulating reports of fake victims, suspects and details of the event. Multiple Twitter accounts blasted out pleas for help finding “relatives” who were at the Route 91 Harvest Festival concert, when in reality the images attached were of unrelated people. One Twitter user was using a photo of Mesut Özil, a German soccer player who plays for Arsenal, Buzzfeed reports, while others were posting images of a suspect in a Mexican murder case, a porn star and a Vine user, among others.
Trolls were also spreading fake images of suspects. Police have identified Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old man from Mesquite, Nevada, as the shooter. But social media accounts were labeling other people the shooter, while conservative media personality Wayne Allyn Root tweeted to his nearly 110,000 followers that there were shots fired at multiple hotels in a “coordinated Muslim terror attack.”
There isn’t evidence of shots fired at other hotels on the Las Vegas Strip Sunday night, nor is there evidence that the shooter was linked to Muslim terrorists.
Viral hoaxes are not a new phenomenon for the early hours after a mass shooting, or even the weeks, months and years following one.
In response to a Twitter user wondering what kind of person deliberately spreads hoaxes after a tragic event, Nelba Márquez-Greene, whose daughter was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, responded, “Many people. Five years later they still contact you. It’s bad and no one wants to talk about. As a victim? I have to.”