Posting on sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, the alleged shooter of two New Zealand mosques is the latest to leverage social media to spread violence and extremism online.
Before the attack, police say the alleged gunman posted a racist and Islamophobic manifesto on social media. The attack itself was announced on message boards, and then live-streamed on Facebook. The graphic 17-minute recording of the shooting spread quickly online after.
Tech companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook have announced efforts to remove the attacker's posts and accounts. And representatives from Reddit told the Washington Post the company was "actively monitoring the situation" and removing the video as well.
Despite those efforts, the gruesome video is still constantly being re-uploaded to YouTube. The manifesto is still hosted on sites with little to no oversight. And ultimately, the extremist ideology of the alleged attacker is spreading — and it's worth questioning if these platforms could have stopped it.
"What I would like to do is have an open and honest and frank conversation about the role of Facebook in society. ...We are seeing it weaponized by terrorists and extremist groups, we are seeing it weaponized by people who are exploiting young children, we are seeing it weaponized by bullying, we are seeing it weaponized by drug dealers and people trafficking in illegal weapons."
Hany Farid of the Counter Extremism Project may be talking specifically about Facebook there — but it highlights the broader issue of how major internet platforms can amplify hatred and violence.
In 2015, a white supremacist self-radicalized by online neo-Nazi propaganda killed nine African-Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Months later, an attacker live-streamed his murder of two Virginia journalists. And just last year, before killing 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue, the shooter regularly posted hate speech online.
While these shootings are alarming on their own, their connections to online spaces paint a scary picture of how extremism and violence permeate in the digital age.
After the mosque massacre in New Zealand, a New York Times columnist referred to it as "an internet-native mass shooting, conceived and produced entirely within the irony-soaked discourse of modern extremism." The Verge noted the manifesto contained "buzzwords meant to galvanize its spread."
"The platforms have to be held more responsible for the weaponization of their platform, whether that's due to extremism, child exploitation, illegal drugs, illegal weapons, etc. And so, I think that there is a line where we can allow for innovation, allow for free expression but minimize some of the damage we have been seeing to society over the last few years."
Despite years of warnings from terrorism experts and organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the online infrastructure that perpetuates extremism still exists — and the New Zealand gunman's attack will likely continue traveling through it.
Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN.