On Friday, March 15th, a terrorist walked into two mosques located in Christchurch, New Zealand and killed 50 people, while injuring 30 others.
Furthermore, the shooter live-streamed the attack on the social media platform Facebook, meaning that all Facebook users were able to view the attacks as they unfolded on their phones, computers, and other devices.
New Zealand citizens have expressed their condolences and provided support for the victims’ families. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been admired for her leadership in what she has called her country's "darkest days" and has vowed to change gun laws.
This event has also sparked controversy about the role of social media in promoting acts of terrorism and violence.
After the shooting ended, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit worked quickly to remove the live video of the attack from their platforms. Facebook, in particular, had to remove over 1.5 million versions of the video.
While it would have been impossible for Facebook to stop the attack, it helps to understand how social media handles online extremism.
Many Internet platforms are designed to increase the time a user spends on their site. Companies do this by recommending controversial or sensitive content to their users. These topics sometimes include hate speech, which is the use of insulting and demeaning words directed towards a specific group of people. In other words, social media has given hate groups a wide-reaching platform to promote their racist or discriminatory ideas.
Social media platforms have been criticized for their lack of policies to discourage hate speech. Despite several incidents around the world (see our article here), the response from these companies has been inconsistent and ineffective.
Changing Gun Laws
Social media has played an enormous role in this event, but New Zealand leaders have turned to gun control as a solution. Their neighboring country Australia is known for its strict gun laws in response to a 1996 massacre-- the harsher regulations have proved to benefit the country.
Currently, the minimum age to own a gun in New Zealand is 16, and a license is required to obtain a gun. However, unlike in Australia, most guns do not need to be registered, so the government does not know how many firearms are circulated in the country or who owns them. Moreover, New Zealand does not have a ban on semi-automatic weapons (a firearm that automatically reloads bullets after a shot is fired), which is in contrast with Australia’s gun laws.
The New Zealand government has expressed its interest in changing its gun laws and is working on increasing gun regulations in response to the Christchurch shooting.
New Zealand has received heartwarming messages from world leaders, but it is time for the world to put those words into action and prevent these events from occurring again.
Sources: BBC, NPR, New York Times, CNN