Google Search Results Wrongly Name Man As Vegas Shooter

John Lister's picture

Google has confirmed its top search results misidentified the man responsible for the Las Vegas shootings. The automated results took the information from a controversial message board site rather than a mainstream media outlet.

The information appeared in the results when people searched for the name of a man who was not responsible to or connected with the shooter. Instead the misidentified man shared a surname with a woman who had been named a "person of interest" by police and was in a relationship the actual shooter.

Man Misidentified As Shooter

When somebody searched for the innocent man's name, Google's results showed snippets from four "news" links at the top of the page. Two of these were from the message board 4chan, with the first listed link specifically identifying him as the shooter.

Multiple threads included this bogus information, with some appearing to be an honest mistake by overenthusiastic posters trying to 'get to the bottom of the story,' and others appearing to be an intentional attempt to use the shooter's (incorrect) identity to advance a political viewpoint. (Source:

In some ways, the mistake could have been worse: it didn't show up in more general results for the shooting, and people would only have been searching for the name itself if they'd already seen the bogus reports elsewhere - such as on social media. However, the fact remains that Google's results gave the clear impression that an authoritative source had confirmed he was responsible.

Google Algorithm Gets Blame

The blunder happened thanks to Google's automatic algorithm-driven results, which aim to find the most relevant news. It appears the algorithm failed to find the right balance between picking up information that hasn't yet made it into mainstream news or official public information, and avoiding dubious or untrustworthy sources.

Google hasn't apologized for the mistake. Instead, in an emailed statement to journalists it said "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 algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future." (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Should Google include message boards and other non-news sites in its "Top Stories" results? Should it manually intervene to adjust or remove the results for newsworthy and topical searches to avoid such mistakes? Should it be held responsible for highlighting misleading results, even when they are actually being made by other websites?

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Dennis Faas's picture

It has already been proven quite a long time ago that it is possible to 'game' the Google system (algorithm) by flooding the Internet with fake news - this story is a good example. But as Google pointed out, this will automatically correct itself when real news agencies release "real news" - depending on who you ask. As far as blaming Google for making the mistake of "identifying" the wrong man: I certainly would not consider a message board as a trustworthy news source. I think they could make strides to do better in the future.

matt_2058's picture

Google could improve accuracy tremendously by not including message boards, blogs, and established untrustworthy sites in its News category. I'm not saying to not have links for the stuff....just don't reference it in News. Yahoo news is alot of blog reposting and not worth the time.

I don't get my news from the old farts hanging out at the convenience store drinking coffee at 4am. Why? Because almost anything they say about anything or anyone other than themselves is gossip and assumptions based on what other people tell them. The only reliable news they have is about themselves, and most of that is exaggerated for attention anyway.

Chief's picture

Like Matt_2058 pointed out, early reports are generally inaccurate. As Google pointed out, the algorithm constantly improves on itself. I equate this as to mis-dialing a phone number and then correcting when the unexpected happens. That's why it's always best to be patient, allow the inquiries to take place and not rush to judgement (which is seemingly impossible now with people's 15-second attention span and 24-hr (instant) 'news' cycles).