Large internet platforms played a central role in the mass shootings at New Zealand mosques Friday — which left at least 49 dead — and immediately prompted renewed calls for YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to combat violent hate speech.
One of the attackers reportedly live-streamed the attack on Facebook Live in a 17-minute video, showing himself entering a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and shooting multiple people. The individual allegedly had posted a manifesto on Twitter and discussion site 8chan, a notorious haven for hate speech. In a forum on 8chan, someone on Friday at 1:30 p.m. New Zealand time posted the message: “I will carry out and attack against the invaders, and will even livestream the attack via Facebook,” Reuters reported.
It’s not clear when Facebook removed the video or shut down the accounts, but the company issued a statement from Facebook spokeswoman Mia Garlick, who said in part: “Police alerted us to a video on Facebook shortly after the livestream commenced and we quickly removed both the shooter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and the video. We’re also removing any praise or support for the crime and the shooter or shooters as soon as we’re aware.”
Twitter also disabled the profile of the alleged attacker, and YouTube said it was “working vigilantly to remove any footage” related to the Christchurch attacks. Still, some of the content posted by the alleged shooter continued to be available for hours afterward, as people cropped the video or posting the text of the manifesto as an image to avoid getting detected by the platforms’ automated systems, the New York Times reported.
Internet companies have repeatedly vowed to crack down on violent extremism and hate-related content. In 2017, for example, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft launched a cross-company effort to combat terrorism. But as the events in New Zealand illustrate, they still are unable to stanch the viral spread of disturbing and violent content in real time.
Police in New Zealand said four people were in custody Friday evening, and that of them — reportedly a 28-year-old Australian man with extreme anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views — has been charged with murder.
In the wake of New Zealand’s worst mass shooting in history, politicians have called on the tech companies to stop the spread of violent and hate speech.
“It’s very distressing that the terrorist attack in New Zealand was live streamed on social media & footage was available hours later,” Damian Collins, the British politician who has been highly critical of Facebook’s business practices of late, said in a tweet. “There must be a serious review of how these films were shared and why more effective action wasn’t taken to remove them.”
Sajid Javid, another member of British Parliament, similarly said in Twitter post: “You really need to do more @YouTube @Google @facebook @Twitter to stop violent extremism being promoted on your platforms. Take some ownership. Enough is enough.”
More to come.
Pictured above: Scene outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, after a mass shooting killed at least 49 people.