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PoliticsJuly 3, 2023

Alarm at Twitter inaction over videos of Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks


A tweet carrying footage from the livestream of the terrorist attacks of March 15 2019 was viewed 150,000 times before the account was suspended following inquiries by The Spinoff.

Footage from the 2019 white supremacist terrorist attacks on two masjids in Christchurch which killed 51 people has re-emerged on Twitter, and for the second time in just over a week, the material remained there despite users flagging it through the platform’s reporting tools. 

The video, which included clips from the livestream and images lionising the convicted terrorist, was posted with an Islamophobic reference to the Paris riots. As of this afternoon the tweet had been viewed 150,000 times, according to Twitter’s own tally. 

The tweet came to the attention of the Australia White Rose Society, an online anti-fascist group, after it was posted early on Saturday, New Zealand time. A spokesperson said many of its members had reported the post to Twitter two days ago. This afternoon, the Spinoff alerted the Christchurch Call unit within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to the post. It in turn contacted Twitter, and just before 5pm the user’s account had been suspended.  

Paul Ash, the Christchurch Call Coordinator in New Zealand, said they had been “made aware of content from the March 15 Christchurch attack livestream video on Twitter” and this afternoon “contacted Twitter to make them aware of the content, the seriousness of it, and our expectation that the video is removed from their platform as soon as possible”.

A separate clip of the livestream appeared on Twitter last week, with a New Zealand based user lodging a report using the site’s tools after encountering it in the “for you” feed. His complaint was dismissed, with the video only removed after the NZ Herald raised the matter with government officials. 

The video of the terrorist attack, originally live-streamed on Facebook, was banned by the New Zealand chief censor three days after it took place, making it illegal to view, possess or share the video in this country. Christchurch Call signatories including Twitter, Facebook, Google and Amazon pledged to clamp down on any appearances of the video and violent extremism on the internet in general. The White Rose Society spokesperson said they were concerned that Twitter, which has dramatically cut staff numbers and encountered technical hiccups since being purchased by billionaire Elon Musk, may no longer be using hashing algorithms to pre-emptively intercept known violent extremist content.

Ash noted that Twitter, as part of the Christchurch Call, had “committed to immediately removing and preventing the upload of terrorist and violent extremist content, including this video.” Anyone who encounters it online is urged to alert police or Internal Affairs

In November last year, then prime minister Jacinda Ardern – who has since stood down from parliament but taken on the role of Christchurch Call special envoy – spied “unknown territory” ahead as far as the participation of Twitter was concerned following the Musk acquisition. She urged the new owner to take seriously the “huge responsibility” of running the platform. A few days later, French President Emmanuel Macron said that Musk had recommitted Twitter to the project. 

An emailed request for comment from the platform on the appearance of the video of the mosque terrorist attacks on its platform, the lack of action in response to public reporting, and the company’s commitment to the Christchurch Call prompted the now customary response from Twitter: a poop emoji.

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