Is the racist violence directly influenced by Online Hate Speech in the real world?

A man with blood-stained clothing is seen near the Linwood mosque on Friday, March 15. Stacey Squires/The Press/Stuff NZ

On March 15, 2019, a big shooting happened at two Christchurch Mosques in New Zealand, which resulted in the deaths of 51 people. That day was described as “One of New Zealand’s darkest Days.” This event is a high level of threat and raised a serious impact and intractable problem with the Internet. The perpetrator, named Brenton Tarrant, expressed the viewpoint of white supremacist and anti-immigrant online. During the attack, he was live streaming on Facebook. This posed the attack spread widely and quickly on the Internet. This event highlighted the role of online platforms in disseminating extremist content that potentially incited violence and attracted public attention to the influence of online hate speech.

Nowadays, online hate speech has become a growing issue and is gaining more attention through digital platforms and social media because of the development of the internet and open-minded social consciousness.

What is Online Hate Speech?

The notion of Hate Speech is that expresses, encourages, or incites hate against a specific group of people or individuals in particular features, such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, and sexual orientation. However, sometimes the negative attributes of Online Hate speech might be worse than public thought such as the shooting event as mentioned in the beginning.

The connection between the Christchurch Mosque Shootings and online hate speech is that the perpetrator expressed his views of white supremacists and anti-immigrants through public online platforms, which are part of online hate speech. All his comments on social media and other online platforms involving hate speech against immigrants and the Muslim community are examples of online extremism and hate speech. These remarks not only reflect his extremist thoughts but may also affect others, especially those susceptible to extremism. Therefore, his real-life violent actions can be seen because of online hate speech. Such speech can inspire or fuel violent attacks against specific communities.

What ideologies incite his violence?

Before the attack, Brenton Tarrant published a manifesto titled “The Great Replacement” which narrated his ideology, grounds, and self-justification for impending atrocities. This manifesto is separated into two parts and is full of jokes and fake information. For the first part, he disparaged or threatened various groups. In the second part, he proposed thoughts and potential strategies to solve those groups. Most of the content talked about his central theme of national, cultural, and racial “replacement”, which displayed him as a standard far-right person. He advocated maintaining white dominance and even mentioned the “white genocide” conspiracy theory because he believed in white supremacist ideology and the superiority of the white race. Brenton Tarrant also expressed strong anti-immigration sentiments, especially against the Muslim community. He described those immigrants as invaders who polluted the cultural and racial purity of Western society. Moreover, he argued that white people will be displaced because of immigration and multiculturalism. He viewed the Christchurch Mosque Shootings as a spark of wider conflict so that he could incite others to take similar actions who have the same beliefs. Therefore, these articles and actions were not only ideological but also included called for violent action.

In the famous racist shooting attack in the United States in 2022, called the Buffalo Supermarket Shooting, the perpetrator was 18-year-old Payton S Gendron who killed 10 people. This event happened to be influenced by Brenton Tarrant. As reported by the police, Payton S Gendron made a livestream during his attack which appeared to promote his sinister agenda. Payton did not accept his guilt and he declared a manifesto. In terms of the content written in the manifesto, his attack action was inspired by the previous massacres induced by racial hatred. Payton S Gendron mentioned that he had read the racist speech of the New Zealand perpetrator and watched Brenton Tarrant’s live stream of the attack. Payton S Gendron even expressed praise for Brenton Tarrant in the manifesto.

These similar racist acts of violence indicate that the ideology of white supremacist and anti-immigrant beliefs was deeply rooted in the perpetrators. They openly propagated this kind of ideology through online platforms such as forums, which allowed them to communicate with individuals who have the same minds as well as access a broader network of extremist content. This will reinforce their worldview and contribute to their radicalization process.

Impact of Online Content and Radicalization Pathways

For Brenton Tarrant, his radicalization pathway is influenced by online content in the digital world, especially violent video games. In his manifesto, he mentioned that Spyro: Year of the Dragon taught him ethnonationalism, and Fortnite trained him to be a killer and educated him to floss on the corpses of his enemies. These digital channels and content are even more influential than his hate speech. Even though there is no specific research result confirming that violent video games will raise the level of individuals’ violent aggression, Brenton Tarrant indeed felt that sense of driving his attack. His main goal of the attack was to make a video of someone killing Muslims. He wore a GoPro camera to record the process of attacking to produce the feeling of first-person shooting. This kind of shooting technique not only satisfies himself but also potentially brings the same excited feeling to those people who have the same mind. This approach also provides potential murderers with a way to become radical such as the perpetrators in the Buffalo Supermarket Shooting and Bærum mosque shooting.

After the Christchurch Mosque Shootings, Brenton Tarrant’s behaviour was combined into some video games. there was an online video game that updated the character which allowed players to act as “Brenton Tarrant”. Moreover, a game even spliced video game action with raw footage of Brenton Tarrant’s attacks. These kinds of violent video games not only did Brenton Tarrant’s brutal killings spread more widely, but also had the possibility of inciting potentially violent behaviour and providing new ideas for the crime of some criminals.

How do those relevant communities respond to the events?

There are some online communities and forums that promote hate speech and encourage violent actions against targeted groups. Online hate speech can contribute to radicalization and the justification of violence against specific communities in those relevant communities.

(Illustration by Lucy Naland/The Washington Post; Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Discord screenshots; Unsplash; iStock)

After the Christchurch Mosque Shootings, not only did Payton S Gendron himself openly admire the perpetrator, but some online communities celebrated and commemorated Brenton Tarrant’s politics and person as a form of “dark fandom.” As mentioned, some individuals were inspired by them and interested in the killings. They praised Tarrant as a “hero” on the Internet. Discord is a chat application favoured by video gamers. It is also widely used by the far-right. According to posts and comments, some users read Brenton Tarrant’s manifesto and watched his attack video and claimed that is truly powerful and wholeheartedly agree. Some users even planned to follow his steps and make up a group to do training to contribute to the fight. According to the data report, an estimated 38,932 messages were posted from users on Discord about the attack after it happened within 24 hours. Moreover, those messages mixed real news with hate speech. Those hate speeches were only to troll to enrage, misinform, or obfuscate.

What role do Online Platforms play?

Back to the topic, of whether racist violence will be directly influenced by Online Hate Speech in the real world. The answer is YES! Moreover, Online platforms also play an important role in facilitating hate speech and extremist content dissemination. This is because those platforms offer a fast and global medium to propagate content.

Every time I talked about the above events and their effects, I could not avoid the mention of those online platforms. No matter whether describing the process of horrible shooting events or discussing public effects. Those platforms always need to be mentioned to complete the whole narrative.

In the Christchurch Mosque Shootings, the perpetrator used Facebook to record his rampage because he realized that digital technology could amplify his murderous behaviour so that he could broadcast violent acts and propagate hateful narratives to a wide audience. During his live streaming, although there were only under 200 people who watched the ongoing carnage, it still posed an enormous, extensive, and enduring splash. Among these people, none of them reported this live-streaming video to Facebook. When Facebook reacted by prohibiting and removing those pieces of relevant video, they had already quickly gone viral.

This kind of live streaming of shooting violence happened in other shooting events such as the Halle synagogue shooting in Germany in 2019 and the Buffalo Supermarket Shooting were live streamed on Twitch. In the Buffalo Supermarket Shooting the gunman wore a camera to broadcast the attack live on Twitch which is a platform popular among gamers. He aimed to let “all people with the internet” watch and record the violence. Even though Twitch claimed that the channel was already offline, the screenshots of the broadcast were circulating online, including some that appeared to show the shooter holding a gun and standing over a body in the grocery store.

Obviously, those horrible events had received global attention from all over the world before the tech companies could even react. Administrators of these platforms raced to remove copious comments glorifying the killings and to ban posts venerating the perpetrator. To avoid the platforms facing censorship and ceasing operations for breaching their terms of service. The Christchurch attack prompted discussions about the responsibility of tech companies in moderating content and preventing the spread of extremist ideologies. This indicates that consider the effectiveness of regulatory measures and platform policies in combating online hate speech.

How was the societal response?

There are some responses from affected communities, government agencies, and civil society organizations to instances of online hate speech and real-world violence. After the Christchurch Mosque Shootings, most of the media chose to hide the name of the perpetrator and restraint in not sensationalizing. This is because Brenton Tarrant designed a series of fodder for the media to seek maximum exposure to his crime and make an enormous influence. However, all the social sectors reached a consensus that tried to reduce the exposure to the perpetrator to ease the negative impact on society and avoid inciting racist campaigns. Some people were prosecuted for sharing Brenton Tarrant’s materials online such as his manifesto and pieces of attacking video. The New Zealand government appealed to invest more energy and attention on the injured and their families instead of the perpetrator which will help him to exposure and reach the goal.

It is worth noting that the social majority expressed their sympathy for victims and survivors and their families in the attack. There were some events or memorials for those people to support their mental, physical, and financial well-being. Some people also focus on the treatment and racist issues of the Muslim community in New Zealand. This might lead to a better and safer living environment for those vulnerable groups.


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