Former Reno man smeared
“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it,” Jonathan Swift wrote. The internet’s speed at spreading information should make us cautious, but it appears not. A former Reno man named Geary Danley was recklessly identified as the Las Vegas killer by extreme conservative websites that appeared to smear him in order to discredit liberals.
It began soon after the Oct. 1 shooting when Las Vegas police were seeking a woman named Marilou Danley. She was later cleared and dropped as a person of interest, but in the meantime, internet denizens looked for Danleys to check out. References to another Danley in the same state, albeit 450 miles from Las Vegas, came to their attention. When they found Geary Danley, who still had Reno online references, they really zeroed in, since he appeared to be typecast as their idea of a villain—“REGISTERED DEMOCRAT!” one site exulted. “To name someone as a mass murderer based on that evidence would be irresponsible and dangerous,” wrote the Washington Post’s Abby Ohlhelser. But conservatives did it.
As they learned more about Danley, now a resident of Arkansas, they started upping the ante in their recklessness, some even naming him the killer. Jim Hoft’s Gateway Pundit in St. Louis ran a piece by Hoft’s brother Joe headlined, “Las Vegas Shooter Reportedly a Democrat Who Liked Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.org and Associated with anti-Trump Army.” (Jim Hoft has received an award from the right wing Accuracy in Media, while liberal Media Matters has an article headlined “22 Times Jim Hoft And The Gateway Pundit Were Absurdly Wrong.”)
The article contains verbiage that makes anyone concerned about accuracy squirm on reading it: “Geary Danley, the murderer of at least 20 concertgoers in Las Vegas, from initial accounts was a far left loon.”
Everipedia: “Geary opened fired [sic] on the 34th floor of the Mandalay Bay toward a concert happening across the street.”
Sites like Facebook and Google News were slow about cleaning this stuff off their sites once the truth became known. It may have been uncertain who—humans or algorithms—were in charge, as pieces with the false claims and pieces correcting the false claims appeared side by side. As late as the morning of Oct. 2, Buzzfeed reported Google News had a “top story” falsely claiming Geary Danley as the shooter. (Buzzfeed also posted a story listing 19 dubious claims about the Nevada shooting.)
As this piece is written on Monday evening, a site called Follow News has lifted the Gateway Pundit material and is running it uncorrected, even as another of its pages reports the smear.
Some comments on the story suggest it’s just something society will have to live with in an internet age. “Misinformation Is the New Normal of Mass Shootings,” was a headline at Politico. “Viral hoaxes are an unfortunate, and permanent, part of how we experience tragedy online,” said Wired. If it turns out to be permanent, a lot of sites are going to be paying out a lot of money.
Besides Buzzfeed, the Washington Post kept “A running list of viral hoaxes and misinformation” about the tragedy.
Some sites—not enough—offered apologies to Danley.