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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Mosque killing video is fuelling hatred

Social media giants must stop giving oxygen to extremists and take responsibility

Members of the public place flowers at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the mosque mass murders at the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand, 17 March 2019. EPA
Members of the public place flowers at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the mosque mass murders at the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand, 17 March 2019. EPA

Amid the reams of heartbreaking images emerging from the slaughter of 50 Muslim men, women and children in New Zealand was one particular piece of footage, shared repeatedly on social media platforms. The video of the mass killing, filmed by the alleged perpetrator on a head-mounted camera and livestreamed to his Facebook page, was still being viewed and uploaded by hundreds of thousands, even as families were preparing to bury those whose terrified faces appeared on camera in their last moments. Despite Facebook announcing it removed 1.5 million copies of the video worldwide in the first 24 hours after the attack, the gruesome footage was still being widely disseminated on multiple platforms and clips of it was even broadcast by some mainstream media outlets. Many of those sharing the video have been appalled by the atrocities committed – yet all have been unwittingly contributing to the spreading of such poison.

The video’s dehumanising content, filmed in the style of a first-person shooter video game or snuff movie, has led to fears it could encourage copycat killings or be used to whip up even more hatred. Further, social media platforms use algorithms to determine the popularity of posts and ensure those most viewed feature prominently on search engines. They have a responsibility to ensure they do not give a platform to the perpetrators of evil, whether that means introducing a time delay in livestreaming or monitoring content more closely. Social media platforms are too often used as a vehicle by extremists and militants to groom impressionable recruits or sow the seeds of hatred. In the case of the Rohingya, for example, driven from their homes in a killing spree, Facebook came in for criticism by the UN for allowing hate speech to flourish on its Myanmar pages. Social media sites are critical to ensuring extreme views are not amplified and disseminated to a global audience. Mainstream media outlets also have a part to play to amplify the voices of victims and heroes like Abdul Aziz Wahabzadah, who tackled the attacker, to prevent such tragic incidents from happening again. While they have a duty to report on events and to analyse them, sharing footage intended as Islamophobic propaganda only serves the purposes of the perpetrator.

We all have a role to play. It is our collective responsibility to prevent such evil seeping into society, not only out of respect for those who lost their lives but because every click counts. The technology already exists to prevent the distribution of videos like this. Strict measures on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube currently prevent and remove the publication of material containing nudity or copyright infringement. Social media companies may hesitate to remove widely viewed videos but pressure must be brought to bear on them to eradicate hate-fuelled content so that violent ideologies have their oxygen supply cut off.

Updated: March 17, 2019 07:35 PM

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