The Christchurch Shooting and the Internet’s Ultimate Oxymoron

The Christchurch Shooting and the Internet’s Ultimate Oxymoron

Kinzah Khan considers the wayward factors behind the horrifying events in Christchurch.

On Friday 15th of March, there was a mass shooting at the Al Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. As of now, there have been 50 people killed in total, including young children. So far, only one suspect has been charged: a man in his late 20s. Three others have been detained. According to a report by the New York Times, the gunman parked in an alley next to the mosque and opened fire on Al Noor Mosque at around 1.40pm. A couple of minutes later, he exited the mosque, retrieved a new gun from his car and resumed firing outside the mosque before entering again. Around six minutes after the first shot, he left the mosque, shot a bystander and drove away. In his manifesto, posted to Twitter and 8chan, the man identifies himself as an Australian white nationalist. Apparently, he was known for his extremist right-wing discussions online. I was just sitting in the Student Centre minding my own business, but I felt compelled to share my raw reaction to some of the articles and tweets. Two in particular have stood out to me. Firstly, I came across this:

‘Terrorist who attacked New Zealand mosque published manifest, livestreamed shooting.’

I am trying to figure out how to describe the look on my face, even while writing this: disgust, shock, abhorrence, repugnance, fear, sorrow, irritation, annoyance, frustration. All I do know is when I read this tweet, I felt physically sick. At the crime itself, but also the very nerve of this man to live stream it, as if it were a videogame. I then saw a tweet that had shared a portion of the video. In the video, the shooter casually reloads his rifle and resumes shooting a pile of bodies. Whether those bodies were dead or alive, I do not know. A little fact about me: I despise guns. I do not think they are cool or necessary in any domestic setting and they make me incredibly uncomfortable. Watching a first-person perspective video of a shooter loading, what looked like military grade assault rifle, in a familiar place of worship was distressing to say the least. When the shooter turned again to the bodies, I had to scroll away. The silence of the video is disturbing and eerie. The carpeted prayer mats and bodies dressed in white shalwars are too familiar. The room looked like every community mosque, reminding us that this attack could have happened anywhere. Please do not search for the video. It’s not worth it.

The role of social media in this case is hardly novel. The trend of right-wing extremists leaving digital trails of intent was already set by the Parkland Florida school shootings and the 2011 shooting in Oslo. The New Zealand shooter is no different: he was known online for his right-wing extremist views, and posted a manifesto to Twitter before conducting his attacks. This digital paper trail helps breed regret: survivors, law enforcement officers and social media companies are left with a ‘what if’ sentiment, wondering what could have been if the red flags had been detected sooner. Over the last couple of years, especially since the Zuckerberg hearing, social networks have been forcibly enhancing their safeguards to protect users and monitor potentially harmful content. As social media becomes a weaponised staple in attacks such as these, the need to reform internet monitoring, especially on niche websites such as 4Chan, becomes more apparent. Modern social networking is still a relatively new concept, but we need to recognise it as more than a platform for sharing harmless memes.

Globalisation has led to huge advantages in connecting our world, where the internet has been a key player. Ideas, cultures, and values can be easily shared and understood through the digital space, leading to a mutual understanding between races, cultures and religions, with the potential to create connections between people who might never otherwise meet. The possibility for empathy and productive discussion is huge, but it’s also incredibly idealist. The ease of sharing values and ideas is not restricted. The New Zealand shooter had the ability – and the audacity – to live stream his actions. Political theory has begun to account for the role of the internet in bolstering the extremist mindset, as terrorists have the ability to find and connect with like-minded others, as easily as Game of Thrones fans can be instantly connected to discussions about the next series. Social media sites have been working to take down the New Zealand video, but the damage has already been done, visible in the heightened security outside mosques the world over. But the terrifying thing is that there’s little we can do: the internet is supposed to have total freedom of expression, where anyone can find like-minded people and share their thoughts. I hope you can see how this idea can be read as positive or negative. The mutual benefits and hindrances of the internet in connecting our world makes it the ultimate oxymoron.

In the all-too-common face of attacks like these, there is an outpouring of ‘thoughts and prayers’ which is always met with a huge amount of criticism online. I agree with this critique to a point, especially when those platitudes come from figures who have the power to do more. But, for the students who have taken the time to read this under a pile of coursework, thoughts and prayers might be the most substantial thing we can give. So please do send your thoughts and prayers – taking the time understand, empathise and acknowledge what has happened and how it is affecting an international community is better than shrugging and scrolling away.

Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons