White supremacy and Islamophobia
“The trick is,” says extremism expert and author JM Berger in an interview on Vox, “how do you cover this and make sure that the context of the action is clear without simply redistributing a piece of propaganda.”
Berger says that it’s clear that this is a white supremacist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant attack. However, he warns that in contrast to the relatively straightforward manifestos of those like Anders Behring Breivik, the accused Christchurch gunman has left traps for the media, which are potentially intended to generate news coverage or propagate white supremacist memes.
Writing in the New York Times, Asne Seierstad, author of One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway, says she believes Breivik was "more dangerous as a symbol and less of an inspiration when seen with all his human failings.”
“Are we complicit in spreading the ideas of these fascists by writing about them? The answer is no. Radicalization happens first and foremost on the internet, where violent extremists meet and incite each other, and where they should be tracked down and monitored. We can’t allow ourselves to be ignorant. To fight terrorism, we need to research how individuals become terrorists. We need to analyze and expose fascist thoughts and violence. People like [them] spread myths and conspiracies dressed up as facts. They use guns to be read. Their thoughts thrive in the darkness, tailored to an underground community. We need to expose the ideas and the lives of these white supremacists. Only then can we dissect them properly."
Watch The Project's Waleedy Aly deliver an emotional message:
Extremism researcher and University of Canterbury PhD student Ben Elley says in the NZ Herald that the accused gunman is a member of “pro-fascist alt-right communities” that thrive in online forums like 4chan.
“These groups are ethno-nationalists, and believe that the only way to achieve a peaceful society is to replace modern nations with 'ethno-states' that are comprised of only one racial group.”
The Intercept writer Mehdi Hasan says that regardless of whether or not the manifesto is a trap, the language used in it is “borrowed from the political and media mainstream — especially here in the United States”. Hasan quotes a catalogue of right-wing American pundits, as well as the occasional Democrat, on the subjects of Muslim immigrant and Islam to convey his point.
Writing from Australia, Slate Magazine’s Rachel Withers also turns her gaze closer to home. In a piece called The Christchurch Shootings Should Implicate All White Australians, Withers argues that for too long “a white majority [has] fomented and let foment hate”.
Also in Australia, The Project’s Waleed Aly delivered an emotional message saying that he was not shocked by the events and blamed it and other mass shootings, in part, on a climate of violence and hate built up by politicians.
"Of all the things that I could say tonight – that I am gutted, that I am scared, and that I am filled with utter hopelessness – the most dishonest thing, the most dishonest thing would be to say that I am shocked. I'm simply not. There's nothing about what happened in Christchurch today that shocks me."
New Zealand’s gun laws
While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already confirmed that she is seeking to change the country’s gun laws, with specific reforms to be made public within the next week, many news outlets like Newsroom, Vox and Huffington Post were quick to point out the gaps that exist in the current system and how lax our gun laws are compared to Australia.
In Vox’s “explainer” on our gun laws, German Lopez notes that “firearms in New Zealand don’t always have to be registered” and that only slight modifications need to be made to change a rifle from one that requires registration to one that doesn’t.
“Just inserting a lower-capacity magazine into an AR15, an assault rifle, can make the weapon not required to be registered.”
In a broader piece on the difficulties in changing our gun laws, Newsroom’s Laura Walters reports that it is likely that the accused gunman used a basic, Category A gun licence to legally purchase the semi-automatic weapons, before going on to “illegally modify the AR15 semi-automatic with large magazines”.
Internet and social media
The internet in general and social media in particular are facing enormous amounts of criticism for failing to stem the spread of white supremacism and appearing to react too slowly in removing the live-streamed footage of the terror attack.
On RNZ’s Morning Report, Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr says New Zealand should take the lead in holding the tech giants to account.
Dr Paul Ralph, senior lecturer in computer science at the University of Auckland, wrote an open letter asking social media platforms to confront their roles in terrorism.
"While the ability to speak anonymously is crucial for a free society, Facebook does not have to be a vehicle for anonymous speech and anonymous speech does not have to include live-streaming," he wrote.
On The Atlantic, Ian Bogost writes about how social media platforms were designed to work this way and “there may be no escape from their grip”.
“When I started catching up on the shooting this morning, I stumbled upon the video of the massacre searching for news. I didn’t intend to watch it, but it autoplayed in my Twitter search results, and I couldn’t look away until it was too late. I wish I’d never seen it, but I didn’t even get a chance to ponder that choice before Twitter forced it upon me. The internet is a Pandora’s box that never had a lid.”
In The Washington Post, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg talk to senior YouTube staff about their whack-a-mole efforts to remove the grisly video from the internet and stop it reappearing.
“Each public tragedy that has played out on YouTube has exposed a profound flaw in its design that allows hate or conspiracies to flourish online. Despite being one of the crown jewels of Google’s stable of massively profitable and popular online services, for many hours, YouTube could not stop the flood of users who uploaded and re-uploaded the footage showing the mass murder of Muslims. About 24 hours later — after round-the-clock toil — company officials felt the problem was increasingly controlled, but acknowledged that the broader challenges were far from resolved.”
In the New York Times article A Mass Murder of, and for, the Internet, Kevin Roose observes “how unmistakably online the violence was, and how aware the shooter on the videostream appears to have been about how his act would be viewed and interpreted by distinct internet subcultures.”
Watch John Oliver react to the Christchurch attack:
Roose writes: “The internet is now the place where the seeds of extremism are planted and watered, where platform incentives guide creators toward the ideological poles, and where people with hateful and violent beliefs can find and feed off one another.”
On the ABC, Ariel Bogle believes the tech companies are to blame, but so are we (and so are mass media companies who lead people to seek graphic material out).
“The truth is, we are still negotiating what it means that an alleged terrorist can find the same platform as useful for his purposes as you do when sending party invitations.”
NZ Herald business reporter Damien Venuto says that after years of inaction, it’s time the country followed Germany’s lead on social media regulation to remove hate speech and make changes that allow for monetary penalties. Hitting them in the pocket is one way major New Zealand advertisers were hoping to bring about change and he followed that up with a story about how some of the country’s biggest advertisers have decided to boycott Facebook and Google.
But, writing on StopPress, James Mok, the head of ad agency VMLY&R said it was an opportunity for the advertising industry to start being more inclusive and diverse.
“Our work is seen by more people, more often, than any other form of popular culture. The impact is enormous, the responsibility arguably even greater. What we do normalises how New Zealanders see themselves … There was a rallying call many Kiwis adopted in the aftermath of Friday – ‘this is not who we are’. The stories we tell and the people we feature in advertising are our chance to show New Zealanders who we really are.”
Jacinda Ardern's response to the tragedy
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been generally praised for her reaction to the attack.
Australian journalist Peter FitzSimons was particularly effusive on TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning about the Prime Minister and the nation as a whole: "The way [Ardern] and New Zealand have handled this has been deeply admired by many Australians."
"Her poise, her steely resolve, and most importantly her language of inclusiveness and diversity. There was nothing in her press conference afterwards and her actions since that was anything seeking any political advantage, anything to divide people. It was all about 'This is not New Zealand'."
Watch Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urge people not to use the gunman's name:
Satirical Australian website The Betoota Advocate added their voice to the mix with an article headline, Australia Left In Shock After Witnessing Sincere And Competent Politician.
Further afield, the New York Times writes that Ardern "speaks for New Zealand at a moment of national pain, her vision of kindness in politics tested by the worst mass murder in her country's modern history".
Reuters reports that Ardern's calm and compassion in response to the attack have "burnished the credentials of a leader whose youth and celebrity had given critics’ doubts".