Tech giants were warned last night “enough is enough” after the killings of 49 people at two mosques in New Zealand were live streamed around the world in the first “terror attack designed for social media.”
Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, led condemnation of the tech firms’ failure to stop the 17-minute video of the shootings being shared for more than 10 hours online after the self-professed white supremacist killer Brenton Tarrant shot defenceless worshippers at Friday prayers.
Reacting to a tweet from YouTube claiming it was working to remove the footage, Mr Javid said: "You really need to do more @YouTube @Google @facebook @Twitter to stop violent extremism being promoted on your platforms. Take some ownership. Enough is enough."
Damian Collins, chairman of the Commons Culture Committee, said it appeared to be a “terror attack designed for social media” and demonstrated why there needs to be “proper statutory regulation of the distribution of content online through social networks.”
“It’s a viral contagion spread through social media helped by their algorithms. The firms need to carry out a major audit into who was sharing this film and how it was shared. There are groups that have deliberately spread it and those accounts should be closed down,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
Tarrant, 28, from Grafton, Australia, live streamed his bloody rampage on Facebook after posting links to a 73-page hate-filled “manifesto” on 8chan, a site with millions of anonymous users and which has been previously linked to the sharing of child pornography.
The video shows him entering the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch at 1.30pm dressed in army fatigues and killing 41 worshippers. Seven were also shot dead at or near the Masjid Mosque. A further 48 were left injured. A 49th victim died in hospital.
Tarrant was arrested along with two other men and a woman. He is understood to have been charged with the killings and is due to appear in court today.
Described by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” Tarrant maximised impact on social media by flagging up the attack on 8chan half an hour before it began and including internet jokes and the names of online celebrities in his manifesto to promote it.
By naming PewDiePie, a British based YouTuber with 89.5m subscribers to his channel, and Candace Jones, a conservative commentator with 1.13 million Twitter followers, he generated interest online from their attempts to dissociate themselves from him.
His manifesto claim that “Fortnite trained me to be a killer” was similarly designed to stir reaction from the game’s worldwide followers.
It also emerged last night that three days before the shooting, Tarrant photographed the decorated guns and body armour he used in the killings and posted pictures of them on his Twitter account, knowing the images would be dredged up after the attack.
He also appears to have outwitted artificial intelligence tools used by Facebook and YouTube to block disturbing content, which struggled to respond in real-time.
The Facebook video of the killings had 23,000 views in an hour and was only taken down after 239,924 people had watched it.
Ten hours after the attack YouTube videos of it were still being shared, despite complaints from users. Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, said Google's response was "not good enough" after YouTube "reviewed" a copy of the video before removing it from the site.
Theresa May warned that the Government expected all tech companies to “act more quickly to remove terrorist content.” A Downing Street spokesman said: “There should be no safe spaces for terrorists to promote and share their extreme views and radicalise others”.
In a televised message, the Prime Minister offered New Zealand Britain’s “deepest condolences,” and said the targeting of Muslim at their place of worship was “despicable.”
“There can be no place in our societies for the vile ideology that drives and incites hatred and fear. Together we will defeat those who seek to destroy our values, our way of life and seek to divide us,” she said.
UK police have stepped up patrols around mosques following the attack in New Zealand.
Officers were deployed to provide reassurance and advice on protective security as Muslims attended Friday prayers around the country.
Mr Javid is to hold talks with anti-terrorism chiefs and security officials to discuss possible further measures to protect mosques in the UK
National policing lead for counter-terrorism Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said: "Whilst there is no intelligence linking these appalling events in Christchurch to the UK, additional uniform patrols will continue in London and nationally over the coming days, focusing on places of worship and specific communities. We are paying specific attention to Mosques, particularly Friday prayers.”
Facebook New Zealand's director of policy Mia Garlick said in a statement: "Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the community affected by this horrendous act.
"New Zealand Police alerted us to a video on Facebook shortly after the livestream commenced and we quickly removed both the shooter's Facebook and Instagram accounts and the video.
"We're also removing any praise or support for the crime and the shooter or shooters as soon as we're aware.
"We will continue working directly with New Zealand Police as their response and investigation continues."
YouTube said on Twitter: "Our hearts are broken over today's terrible tragedy in New Zealand.
"Please know we are working vigilantly to remove any violent footage."
A Twitter spokeswoman said: "We are deeply saddened by the shootings in Christchurch today.
"Twitter has rigorous processes and a dedicated team in place for managing exigent and emergency situations such as this.
"We also co-operate with law enforcement to facilitate their investigations as required."