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Social Media Faces Backlash After Livestreaming N.Z. Mosque Terror Attack

Two major groups representing advertisers in New Zealand are urging companies to reconsider spending on Facebook and other social media sites after the massacre of 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch was video-streamed live — and remained available online five days after the massacre.

The news comes amid growing calls from politicians for the social media companies to do more to prevent terrorists from using their platforms.

“The events in Christchurch raise the question: If the site owners can target consumers with advertising in microseconds, why can’t the same technology be applied to prevent this kind of content being streamed live?” asked a statement Monday from the Association of New Zealand Advertisers and the Commercial Communications Council.

Backlash not boycott

The groups stop well short of calling for a boycott. “ANZA and the Comms Council encourage all advertisers to recognize they have choice where their advertising dollars are spent, and carefully consider … where their ads appear,” reads the statement.

But at least one major New Zealand advertiser  — state-owned lottery company Lotto NZ  — said Monday it had already pulled advertising from social media. “The tone didn’t feel right in the aftermath of these events,” a spokesman told Reuters. The news agency reported that other major advertisers, including ASB Bank, one of the country’s biggest banks and a unit of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, were considering whether to pull their ads from social media.

It’s part of a growing backlash facing the platforms after the gunman’s 17-minute bodycam video of the slaughter remained available online Tuesday, according to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“We have been in contact with Facebook; they have given us updates on their efforts to have it removed, but as I say, it’s our view that it cannot — should not — be distributed, available, able to be viewed,” she said, according to AP.

“It is horrendous and while they’ve given us those assurances, ultimately the responsibility does sit with them,” Ardern said.

Viral terror

The video — in which the gunman name-checks YouTube star PewDiePie, in an apparent attempt at search engine optimization — is probably not the first livestreamed terrorist attack. In 2016, a 25-year-old accused of killing two police employees outside Paris reportedly broadcast the attack on Facebook Live, according to French media.

But it has underlined the challenges social media companies face in policing their sites, which serve billions of users, with only a few thousand employees.

In the 24 hours after the slaughter, Facebook said it removed 1.5 million copies of the video, over 1.2 million of them blocked at upload. The company said it is continuing to remove any instances of the video on the social network, using reports from users and its team of moderators, as well as automated detection tools.

The company said it would also take down “fake news” about the attack — such as claims the shooting didn’t occur or that survivors are crisis actors — according to CNet.

Twitter and YouTube have also been working to remove the video, according to tech news site The Verge. Reddit banned a discussion thread devoted to the video called r/watchpeopledie, and other sites began removing tributes to the alleged shooter.

New Zealand’s biggest telecommunications company, Spark NZ Ltd, worked with a number of broadband providers last week to block access to dozens of extremist websites that were redistributing the video of the killings, Reuters reported.

“This is a pretty extreme step. We’ve never done this before,” Spark spokesman Andrew Pirie told the news agency.

Calls for regulation

The apparent failure of social media companies to effectively remove the video brought calls for regulation from some political quarters.

“The social media platforms which were actually playing a video made by this person who is accused of murder… all over the world, that surely has got to stop,” British Labor Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News over the weekend.

“Those that control and own social media platforms should deal with it straight away and stop these things being broadcast. But that brings into the whole issue of the question of regulation of social media,” Corbyn concluded.

Teen charged with distributing video

Meanwhile, New Zealand media reported that one of the three people arrested Friday in connection withe the attack was an 18-year-old who had helped distribute the livestream.

The teen faces two charges: one of sharing the attacker’s livestream and a second for posting a photograph of one of the mosques he attacked with the message “target acquired” along with other chat messages “inciting extreme violence,” according to court documents. He was denied bail Monday.

“The footage related to the attack has been classed as objectionable, so it is an offense under New Zealand law to possess, share, and/or host it,” Sarah Stuart-Black, director of New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, told the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

Shaun is an award-winning journalist who has worked for the BBC and United Press International. In the past five years, Shaun has launched two of the best-respected and most widely read DC daily cybersecurity newsletters — POLITICO Pro's Morning Cybersecurity and Scoop News Group's CyberScoop. Shaun became UPI's Homeland and National Security Editor shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, covering the Department of Homeland Security from its standup in 2003. His reporting on DHS and counter-terrorism policy earned him two (2005, 2011) "Dateline Washington" awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, and a senior fellowship at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. In 2009-10 Shaun produced a major report on cybersecurity for critical infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a leading Washington think tank. From 2010-2013, he wrote about intelligence, foreign affairs and cybersecurity as a staff reporter for The Washington Times. Shaun, who is British, has a master’s degree in social and political sciences from King’s College, Cambridge. He is married and lives in Washington, DC with his wife and three American sons, Miles, Harry and Peter.

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