New Zealand 'shooter' sent manifesto to officials and media before attack

Sergio Conner
March 17, 2019

Online accounts linked to gun attacks that killed 49 people and wounded at least 20 at two New Zealand mosques on Friday had in recent days circulated white supremacist imagery and extreme right-wing messages celebrating violence against Muslims and minorities on social media and message boards.

The 28-year-old shooter, who has been arrested, published a racist manifesto on Twitter before livestreaming his rampage showing him repeatedly shooting at worshipers from close range.

Facebook said it removed the stream after being alerted to it by New Zealand police.

"All content praising, supporting and representing the attack and the perpetrator (s) should be removed from our platform", Facebook instructed content moderators in India, according to an email seen by Reuters.

The Associated Press reports the shooter's reported broadcast lasted about 17 minutes.

He enters the building and fires repeatedly at worshipers as he moves from room to room. "We will continue working directly with New Zealand Police as their response and investigation continues".

On Twitter, YouTube stated that it is "working vigilantly to remove any violent footage" on its platform, indicating that the content had spread rapidly online and suggesting social media companies are finding it challenging to rein in.

If Facebook wanted to monitor every livestream to prevent disturbing content from making it out in the first place, "they would have to hire millions of people", something it's not willing to do, said Vaidhyanathan, who teaches media studies at the University of Virginia.

Twitter has also been battling to remove shared videos.

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People who wanted to spread the material had raced to action, rapidly repackaging and distributing the video across many apps and websites within minutes.

"We are adding each video we find to an internal database which enables us to detect and automatically remove copies of the videos when uploaded again", Garlick added.

"Remember, lads, subscribe to PewDiePie", the gunman said.

The seemingly incongruous reference to the Swedish vlogger known for his video game commentaries as well as his racist references was instantly recognizable to many of his 86 million followers.

A Facebook account bearing the same name as the alleged gunman apparently livestreamed the massacre on Facebook, and a manifesto was posted on a Twitter account by the same name as well. "My heart and thoughts go out to the victims, families and everyone affected", he said.

The rampage's broadcast "highlights the urgent need for media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to use more artificial intelligence as well as security teams to spot these events before it's too late", Ives said.

But Reuters found videos of the shooting on all five platforms up to 10 hours after the attacks, which began at 1345 local time in the city of Christchurch. This makes for a tricky balancing act for the company.

Joshua Buxbaum, chief executive of Irvine, California-based moderation technology company WebPurify, said Facebook and other services could employ image recognition or other types of AI to identify copies in additional ways.

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