NEW YORK — While authorities were trying to get a handle on what was unraveling at the Mandalay Bay hotel Sunday night, internet trolls were hard at work spreading bogus stories about a mass shooting at a country music festival, with some of them going viral.
Among the hoaxes was a series of posts identifying the gunman as comedian Sam Hyde. It’s become a disturbing routine for online trolls who have identified Hyde as a suspect in the 2015 San Bernardino shooting and again in a shooting at UCLA last year.
A number of troll accounts on Twitter pushed out phony missing victim photos, asking for retweets to “spread the word.” The “missing” included a suspect linked to a murder case in Mexico, an adult film actor and former Vine star Lil Terio.
And there wasn’t a shortage of conspiracy theories either.
Primarily disseminated by far-right blogs, a news story claimed the shooter was a man named Geary Danley, a mutual friend of Marilou Danley, who has since been identified as the companion of the actual shooter, Stephen Paddock.
Citing Geary Danley’s left-leaning page “likes” on Facebook, which included Rachel Maddow and MoveOn.org, trolls quickly convicted Geary Danley, with some linking him to the antifa movement.
One bizarre story that has yet to be debunked was the claim that an emotionally disturbed woman warned many concertgoers of what was going to happen.
“There was a lady who pushed her way through the front of the crowd … and she started messing with another lady and told her we were going to die tonight,” a witness told a TV news crew.
It’s still unclear if that mystery woman had any ties to the shooting. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office, which covers Las Vegas, did not immediately comment on the incident, which could have been a bizarre coincidence.
How to spot fake news
There are many ways to investigate for yourself whether a report you’re seeing online is legitimate.
According to experts, one of the first giveaways is a shady domain and URL.
If you’re visiting a site with a questionable news story, an immediate red flag is a domain with an ending like ".com.co." Most established news sites own their own domain like CNN.com and NYDailyNews.com. Reputable news outlets would almost never opt out of the .com family.
While there are a number of popular blogs written and maintained by journalists, there are also blogs operated by those who identify with radical ideologies. An easy way to sift through this content is by simply searching for the site’s About Us page, where missions and goals are usually stated.
To that end, it's important to note: reputable news sites almost never speak in the first person.
If a questionable photo is used in the story, take advantage of Google’s reverse image search. This tool has become incredibly useful for those looking to debunk hoaxes and stories that seem too good to be true.
You can learn how to perform a reverse image search, here.
Another easy way to verify whether a story is true or false is to Google it.
If a story sounds shady, searching a few terms on the topic should pull up other related news stories from different outlets. Chances are if other reputable news outlets haven’t reported on this story, it's probably not true or it's loaded with inaccuracies, which may be the reason why other outlets opted out.
Finally, look at the comments section.
It’s likely that others already sniffed out the story, deeming it fake news. Readers usually take advantage of the comment section to sound off on the validity of the story in question.