New Zealand terror attacks show how far-right violence is incubated online - GulfToday

New Zealand terror attacks show how far-right violence is incubated online


A policeman stands near a crime scene.

Mike Stuchbery

Forty-nine are dead and many injured in New Zealand’s bloodiest act of terrorist violence, as two mosques were hit in a coordinated assault. There are many questions remaining in the aftermath – why or how this occurred should not be among them.

The demonisation of Islam and increased levels of migration is an essential tool of far-right political populists and think tanks on both sides of the Atlantic. Serving both to align voters against a common “enemy” and to fight a proxy war over middle eastern interests, the casting of Muslims as “invaders” is a strategy that has proved reliably effective (not least for the man currently inhabiting the White House). Activists and community leaders have been highlighting these concerted campaigns for years.

It’s also a very profitable business. One need only look to the success of various activists such as ‘Tommy Robinson’ and his imitators in the United Kingdom to understand that painting a picture of society under siege by a torrent of Muslim migrants soon brings in a steady stream of donations.

Indeed, even compared to two years ago, we are now seeing a greatly increased number of personalities attempting to establish themselves as “telling the truth” about Islam here in Britain. A recent Hope Not Hate study showed that five of the top ten most influential far right social media personalities in the world today hail from these shores.

It was inevitable that inflammatory pronouncements about Islam’s threat, made over and over again by myriad people around the world would eventually be answered with violence. Pundits reaching for their smartphone today would be wise to remember that.

As for how this horror was enabled, one only need look to toxic online spaces and social media to understand. For years, online communities such as 8chan have acted as an incubator for extreme racist and white supremacist ideas, couched in multiple layers of sick humour and irony. The use of memes to first provoke a laugh, and then incite hatred is well documented by researchers looking at online discourse.     

These spaces, in which extremist ideas meet banal talk of video games and other facets of internet culture, also serve to dehumanise communities and negate the impact of actions against them. One need only look to the gunman telling those watching him to “subscribe to PewDiePie”, a popular YouTuber, before opening fire to see a chilling reminder of this. In one sense, the attack was framed by the killer as something almost unreal.

Were these sites being accessed out of Syria, and not Seattle, or Stoke Newington, these websites would undeniably be under a huge deal of scrutiny by security services. However, as a space inhabited mostly by young, white men, they’re overlooked.

Once radicalised, social media provides a convenient stage for them to act out their beliefs. The Christchurch killer live streamed his attack to thousands of viewers over Facebook. His manifesto was posted across Twitter, and within hours of the massacre, it was being discussed – often positively – on right-wing YouTube channels.

These social media tools were used for the express purpose of turning the killings into a spectacle, one to be consumed over and over again. While his accounts would be shut down within hours of the attack, the nature of these networks means that video could, and is, being uploaded over and over again. It will be available forever, no matter how hard authorities try to clamp down.

Why, and how this attack occurred is no mystery. The inciting words, the spaces in which the killer was radicalised and the tools he used to carry it out are in plain view. Any speculation seems redundant in the face of the evidence provided.

What we do need answers to, is the question of what happens next. Since those inciting and radicalising are among us, part of our communities, will we choose to ignore them? Will we talk down the influences upon the killer, seeking to paint him as mentally ill, or a “lone wolf”? Or can we finally start to have some difficult conversations about how privilege and a type of blindness prevents us from tackling an emerging, increasing threat?

We can only make excuses for so long.  

The Independent