Twitter tackling online polarisation

CHRISTCHURCH • 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 shooting in Christchurch on March 15 last year saw 51 people 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 the University of Otago's National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies to look at ways to counter "digitally amplified polarisation", the social media firm said in the past 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.

Last year, Twitter and other tech firms like Facebook and YouTube joined 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 shared online.

Ms Ardern said on Friday that 48 countries, eight online service providers and three organisations have joined the initiative. She added that the online distribution of violent videos in recent attacks have been "far, far diminished" due to coordination between the group.

The Christchurch attack was live-streamed on Facebook for 17 minutes, and copies of the footage were later shared on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Instagram.

Millions of copies of the footage were later taken down but many remain online, the Counter Extremism Project said yesterday.


"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," it said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 15, 2020, with the headline 'Twitter tackling online polarisation'. Print Edition | Subscribe