Ahead of mosque attack anniversary, Twitter targets online polarisation

A police officer standing guard outside the Al Noor mosque on March 13, 2020, two days ahead of the first anniversary of the Christchurch mosque shootings, in Christchurch. PHOTO: AFP

CHRISTCHURCH (REUTERS) - Twitter said it was looking at ways of countering polarisation on its platform as it launched a new project ahead of the first anniversary of the mass shooting at mosques in New Zealand.

The plans were announced this week as New Zealand prepares for a memorial of the attack in Christchurch on March 15 last year, in which 51 people were killed when a gunman attacked Muslims attending Friday prayers, broadcasting the shooting live on Facebook.

The attack inspired more online hate and polarisation, experts have said.

Twitter would partner with the University of Otago's National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in the project that looks at ways to counter "digitally amplified polarisation", the social media firm said in a statement this week.

By looking at Twitter data before, during and after the attack the research will study how conversations can be used to "promote tolerance and inclusion instead of division and exclusion", it said.

Twitter and other tech firms like Facebook and YouTube signed up last year to a global initiative called "Christchurch Call" launched by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that aimed to bring together governments and companies to eradicate extremist material being shared online.

Ms Ardern said at a news conference on Friday (March 13) that 48 countries, six tech companies and three organisations have joined the initiative, and the online distribution of violent videos in recent attacks have been "far, far diminished" due to coordination between the group.

The Christchurch attack was livestreamed on Facebook for 17 minutes, and its copies were later shared on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Instagram.

Millions of copies of the footage were later taken down but despite that videos of the attack still remain online, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) said in a statement on Saturday.

CEP, a private group that monitors and reports extremist content online, said the video, clips of the video, and content celebrating the attack remain easily locatable on file-hosting websites, message boards and video-streaming platforms.

"Sadly, the Christchurch video remains a case study of how sites and platforms continue to be misused by extremists, especially when tech companies fail to take the steps necessary to prevent the hosting or broadcasting of extremist content," CEP said in a statement.

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