Christchurch shootings: Facebook, YouTube blindsided by shooter's live-stream video

A screengrab from a video that circulated on social media reportedly showed a gunman entering a mosque in Christchurch. The attack was live-streamed online by a gunman identified in reports as Australian Brenton Tarrant.
A screengrab from a video that circulated on social media reportedly showed a gunman entering a mosque in Christchurch. The attack was live-streamed online by a gunman identified in reports as Australian Brenton Tarrant.PHOTOS: REUTERS

TOKYO/HONG KONG • Social media platforms, including Facebook, are facing harsher scrutiny after a shooter accused of killing dozens of people in two mosques in New Zealand appeared to live-stream the murders over the Internet.

While platforms including Twitter and YouTube said they moved fast to remove the content, users reported that it was still widely available hours after being first uploaded to the alleged shooter's Facebook account.

The video, which shows a first-person view of the killings in Christchurch, New Zealand, was readily accessible during and after the attack - as was the suspect's hate-filled manifesto.

Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms are struggling to scrub offensive content from sites that generate billions of dollars in revenue from advertisers.

In the United States, those sites have also been criticised for spreading political misinformation, with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg being called before Congress.

In August last year, a shooting at a Madden NFL 19 video-game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, was captured on live video.

Earlier last year, YouTube star Logan Paul posted a clip of a dead body hanging from a tree in Japan, prompting the Google-owned video portal to remove his channels from a preferred advertising programme.

 
 
 
 
 

Yesterday, just before the alleged gunman opened fire in Christchurch, he urged viewers to subscribe to the popular YouTube channel PewDiePie, which itself has been criticised for posting offensive footage in the past.

In response, YouTube said it was "working vigilantly to remove any violent footage".

"Our hearts are broken over today's terrible tragedy in New Zealand," the video portal said in a Twitter posting.

Facebook acted swiftly to contain the fallout. "Police alerted us to a video on Facebook shortly after the live-stream commenced, and we quickly removed both the shooter's Facebook and Instagram accounts and the video," the company said on its Twitter account.

"We are also removing any praise or support for the crime and the shooter or shooters as soon as we are aware," it added.

Ms Mia Garlick, a spokesman for Facebook in New Zealand, said: "We will continue working directly with the New Zealand police as their response and investigation continue."

This week, negative sentiment towards Facebook rose to the highest level in almost eight months on rival social network Twitter, as the company raced to fix a worldwide outage and faced reports of a grand jury investigation.

Mr Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, who uses the moniker PewDiePie, said on Twitter that he was "absolutely sickened having my name uttered by this person", referring to the alleged gunman.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2019, with the headline 'Facebook, YouTube blindsided by shooter's live-stream video'. Print Edition | Subscribe