A Facebook post that claims the shooting was a “false flag” has been shared more than 350,000 times. A similar report from the conspiracy-focused website Your News Wire has racked up more than 200,000 interactions, according to CrowdTangle, which tracks social media engagement.
A pattern often emerges as the authorities investigate a mass shooting: speculation in online forums that one person could not have possibly committed this act alone.
Law enforcement officials have stated multiple times that, at this point, they believe that the gunman who killed at least 59 including himself and wounded more than 500 on Sunday night in Las Vegas acted alone.
Assistant Sheriff Todd Fasulo of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department explicitly addressed the confusion online, saying on Monday night: “I want to emphasize we believe Paddock is solely responsible for this heinous act. We are aware of the rumors outside of the media and also on social media that there was more than one assailant. We have no information or evidence to support that theory or that rumor. We believe there was only one shooter and that was Stephen Paddock.”
A history of speculation
Similar rumor-mongering has emerged in the wake of previous mass shootings.
The morning after a gunman opened fire at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the police dispelled the rumor that he had accomplices. Some falsely believe the Sandy Hook shooting was staged and seized upon a mysterious “man in the woods” as proof of an additional conspirator. The man was searching for his daughter, a student at the elementary school.
In fact, mass shootings have historically been solo acts, with some exceptions like Columbine and San Bernardino.