04/04/2018 02:31 BST | Updated 04/04/2018 21:47 BST

As YouTube Shooting Unfolded, Fake News Spread Like Wildfire On Twitter

“I have never seen this many hoaxes flood in this quickly. They just keep coming.”

During crisis situations, Twitter can be a useful resource for people seeking information from witnesses or officials about what transpired and what might happen next. But the social media platform can also be a breeding ground for rampant misinformation during breaking news events. Tuesday’s shooting at YouTube’s headquarters was a case in point.

As the shooting unfolded at YouTube’s campus in San Bruno, California, hoaxes and other misinformation began spreading on Twitter. Various people were erroneously identified as the shooter, including YouTube personality Matt Jarbo and comedian Sam Hyde. Hyde is often targeted by hoaxers in the aftermath of shootings.

BuzzFeed reporter Jane Lytvynenko was reporting on the false news being disseminated on Twitter when she discovered that she herself had been identified as the shooter.

Reacting to the onslaught of misinformation, Lytvynenko, who reports on fake news for BuzzFeed, said, “I have never seen this many hoaxes flood in this quickly. They just keep coming.”

In the minutes after the shooting, a verified Twitter account belonging to Vadim Lavrusik, a product manager at YouTube, was hacked by an unknown troll who began posting tweets about the attack, including one that read “PLEASE HELP ME FIND MY FRIEND I LOST HIM IN THE SHOOTING.”

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was alerted to the hack and said his team was “on it.”

A couple of hours later, Lavrusik returned to Twitter to say his account had been restored.

HuffPost reporter Sebastian Murdock said he was approached on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon by someone claiming to be a YouTube intern.

“I believe I have info on who the shooter is,” the Twitter user said.  

Soon after reaching out to Murdock, the user changed their account details, including the name (to “Jack Sebastian”) and description (to “Intern at YouTube HQ”). 

Murdock reported the account, which has since been scrubbed of the fake material.

Screenshot/Sebastian Murdock
Screenshot/Sebastian Murdock

Twitter acknowledged on Tuesday that misinformation had been spread on the platform in the hours after the shooting at YouTube.

Dorsey said the company was “tracking, learning, and taking action” in response to the many hoaxes.

“We‘re working diligently on product solutions to help,” he added.

Information about the suspected female shooter and her motive remains scarce. 

San Bruno Police Chief Ed Barberini said the shooter appeared to have died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. At least three other people were wounded in the attack, officials said.