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YouTube updates algorithm after search prioritises false reports on Las Vegas shooting

Tim Maytom

YouTube has reportedly updated its search engine in an effort to limit the reach of conspiracy theories, misinformation and harmful messages on its video-sharing platform.

The update comes following the mass shooting in Las Vegas earlier this week, where a gunman killed 58 people and injured more than 500 others at a music festival. In the wake of the shooting, videos that propogated false theories and misinformation quickly climbed the ranks of YouTube's search results, with one video rising as high as fifth in the search results for "Las Vegas shooting".

According to The Wall Street Journal, the changes were rolled out on Wednesday night, accelerating existing plans that were already in progress to update its search engine algorithm. The changes are focused on major news events, and are designed to ensure that videos from authoritative sources are given priority, although YouTube has not revealed details on how it defines 'authoritative'.

On Tuesday night, the fifth result for searches of "Las Vegas shooting" on YouTube was a video titled "Proof Las Vegas Shooting was a FALSE FLAG attach - Shooter on 4th Floor", a rumour that has been repeatedly debunked by authorities.

Google and Facebook have also both struggled with misinformation and conspiracy theories infiltrating their news services this week, and have had to tweak algorithms as a result.

The top of Facebook's News Stories feed was briefly an article from the Gateway Pundit claiming that the shooter "associated with anti-Trump army". The Gateway Pundit has a reputation for spreading fake news stories, including the "Pizzagate" conspiracy which falsely claimed that members of the US Democratic Party were involved in a human-trafficking child-sex operation. Its story regarding the Las Vegas shooting was also proved false.

Meanwhile, Google News promoted a thread from notorious internet forum board 4chan which seems to have been the source of the Gateway Pundit's story. The thread falsely identified the shooter and then attempted to pull together information on his based on internet activity such as page likes on Facebook.

"Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries," said Google in a statement. "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."