A gunman opened fire in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 49 people and injuring 20 more. As he did so, he filmed the entire crime and live-streamed it directly to Facebook.
What ensued was an exhausting race for social media pages to take the footage down, as it was replicated seemingly endlessly and shared widely in the wake of the attack.
And through social media, it found its way onto the front pages of some of the world’s biggest news websites in the form of still images, gifs, and even the full video.
This series of events has, once again, shone a spotlight on how sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Reddit try – and fail – to address far-right extremism on their platforms.
As the video continued to spread, other members of the public put up their own posts pleading with people to stop sharing it.
One pointed out: “That is what the terrorist wanted.”
The video, which shows a first-person view of the killings, has been widely circulated.
- About 10 to 20 minutes before the attack in New Zealand, someone posted on the /pol/section of 8chan, a message board popular with the alt-right. The post included links to the suspect’s Facebook page, where he stated he would be live-streaming and published a rambling and hate-filled document
- That document was, as Bellingcat analyst Robert Evans points out, filled with “huge amounts of content, most of it ironic, low-quality trolling” and memes, in order to distract and confuse people
- The suspect also referenced a meme in the actual video. Before opening fire he shouted “subscribe to PewDiePie”, a reference to a meme about keeping YouTube star PewDiePie as the most-subscribed-to channel on the platform. PewDiePie has been embroiled in a race row before, so some have speculated that the attacker knew that mentioning him would provoke a reaction online. PewDiePie later said on Twitter he was “absolutely sickened having my name uttered by this person”
- The attacks were live-streamed on Facebook and, despite the original being taken down, were quickly replicated and shared widely on other platforms, including YouTube and Twitter
- People continue to report seeing the video, despite the sites acting pretty swiftly to remove the original and copies, and copies are still being uploaded to YouTube faster than it can remove them
- Several Australian media outlets broadcast some of the footage, as did other major newspapers around the world
- Ryan Mac, a BuzzFeed technology reporter, has created a timeline of where he has seen the video, including it being shared from a verified Twitter account with 694,000 followers. He claims it has been up for two hours