by Ellie Tivey

This morning, the world woke up to heart-breaking news from New Zealand. Last night, at 1:42pm local time, a small group of far-right extremists stormed the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, resulting in the deaths of 49 innocent people. As it stands, a 28-year-old Australian named Brenton Tarrant has been arrested, alongside two other unnamed males and one female. The international community is, once more, united in grief, and nowhere is this more true than among New Zealanders, who have never experienced an attack of this kind before.

As with all terrorist acts, this period of grief tends to be followed by one of reflection. The questions start rolling in, how did we let this happen? What happened to these people to make them rationalise and participate in mass murder? A lot more questions have been raised in Christchurch, however, and that is down to one single defining feature: Tarrant was livestreaming his mass murder to Facebook the entire time.

This video has since become more than viral. It’s popped up on unsuspecting people’s twitter feeds, it’s been shared in group chats, it has been shared by actual news outletsas part of their coverage on the story (these outlets deserve to be named so, Daily Mail and Mail Online, shame on you). Despite the New Zealand police force desperately urging people not to share or watch the video, it has been viewed innumerable times. 

Tarrant’s video, and the subsequent reaction to it, raises multiple burning questions about mass murder in the modern age. For one thing, the video was filmed via a go-pro attached to Tarrant’s body. As a result of this, his movements throughout the mosque and his utterly despicable actions once inside bore an irrefutable resemblance to the numerous violent video games circulating through popular culture.

To some, this may seem little more than a coincidence, but the implications of these similarities are immense. It’s probably the reason why so many people have elected to watch it. We are so desensitised to witnessing the simulation of violence through a first-person shooter framework that, when it actually becomes reality, the gravity of this situation is dulled. The single fact that so many people were able to watch this video due to this desensitization raises some grave questions about the violence that we sometimes allow to become cornerstones of video game culture (hello Grand Theft Auto). 

A second feature of this video that should cause some serious introspection regarding the institutions of western culture, is just how easilyit could be shared. Research recognised, some time ago now, that a desire for fame is a major motivator in many people’s participation in mass murder. This is undeniably true for Tarrant, who showed his face at the beginning of the video, providing the perfect shot for news outlets to display at the top of their coverage. He provided absolutely categorical evidence that he is guilty of this crime. He sealed his own fate. 

And for what? It was so he could be lauded as a hero in the more depraved corners of the internet where the extremist-right congregate. It was so he could be the focus of worldwide conversation. It was so people like me would write articles like this. And thanks to the colossus that is social media, everyone who shared and watched that video willingly presented him with his deepest desire.In the same day that he stole the lives of people he didn’t know for the plain and simple fact that they were in a mosque, thousands upon thousands of people played into his hands and gave him exactly what he wanted by watching and sharing his stream. 

The fact that Tarrant made this video, and the response that he got to it, all culminates in one conclusion regarding modern society. The tech-based immigration of far-right sentiment across the world poses one of the single biggest threats to our lives, our culture, and our humanity. The same delusional and destructive sentiments held by Tarrant can be found in the Orlando shooter and the van driver from Toronto.

Social media is providing the platform through which people are justifying mass murder based on far-right, racist, sexist beliefs, with deadly effect. If one thing comes out of this appalling event, it has to be the recognition and rejection of the harm that is caused when the power of social media outlets goes unchecked. Who is holding them to account?

Ellie is a recent graduate in History and Politics from the University of Manchester. Originally from Bristol, Ellie moved to Manchester in 2015. She spent the final year of her degree as Editor of the university’s only historical publication, The Manchester Historian, and continues to present/produce weekly news videos for a Manchester startup, Student Inspire Network. She has dreams of becoming a journalist and hopes to embed her passion for politics and popular culture in all of her work.