This complex, deadly and politically motivated attack was intended to motivate others to carry out similar attacks against not just Muslims but also anyone who supports multiculturalism and globalism. The speed with which the attacker's message moved has also renewed discussions as to how social media companies can more responsibly manage user-generated content.
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At least one gunman opened fire on worshippers during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 49 people, The New Zealand Herald reported March 15. Police arrested four people during their response to the attacks, but only one Australian man has been charged. A manifesto posted online outlining the motivations for the attack claims that the attacker acted alone and that he was motivated by a variety of issues associated with extreme-right ideology — including anti-Islamic as well as anti-globalist sentiments.
Though the attack appears to have been meticulously planned and prepared by a suspect who obviously held extremist views but managed to avoid detection by authorities, the high death toll can also be attributed to inadequate preparation for an active shooter situation. Video supposedly live-streamed by the shooter shows that most people at the first location were shot as they crowded the exits, effectively creating a kill zone. The mosques do not appear to have had any security in place, and though one of the worshippers tried to rush the gunman, he was quickly shot dead. The gunman was at the first mosque for at least 6 minutes and was able to leave before any police arrived on the scene. Indeed, the gunman claimed that he had chosen to carry out his attack in New Zealand precisely because of its soft targets.
Soft targets are vulnerable specifically because they do not expect to be attacked, highlighting the importance of having plans in place to address attacks and of carrying out regular drills to practice those responses.
What It Means
This is one of the deadliest active shooter attacks worldwide and the deadliest terrorist attack in New Zealand's history, a country that lacks experience with situations of this kind.
The mass shooting will have repercussions around the world in the weeks to come. It was intended to motivate others to carry out similar attacks against not just Muslims but also anyone who supports multiculturalism and globalism, including aid groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), philanthropists and business elites — regardless of their race or ethnicity. Mosques and Islamic groups, as well as NGOs and supportive politicians and business leaders around the world, should review their security practices and be on heightened alert for copycat attackers. The lessons to be learned from this attack apply to religious congregations and populations everywhere. Soft targets are vulnerable specifically because they do not expect to be attacked, highlighting the importance of having plans in place to address attacks and of carrying out regular drills to practice those responses.
The speed with which the attacker's message moved has renewed discussions as to how social media companies can responsibly manage user-generated content to cut down on hate speech and calls for violence. These social media platforms face pressure to censor and moderate their own content, but have so far found the task of overseeing their billions of users to be beyond their reach. Other platforms, such as 8chan, have steadfastly refused to engage in censorship as part of their business model, jeopardizing the reputations of the companies that host their sites.
Terrorists and their victims have live-streamed multiple attacks in recent years, generating political concerns that social media platforms amplify their message, inspire copycats and radicalize others. Some organizations like YouTube have attempted to prevent users who generate content outside of their community standards from profiting from their videos. Others, like Twitter, have banned some users or, in the case of Reddit, shut down entire messaging communities. This has produced rival platforms such as Gab, Voat and 8chan where extremists continue to share their messages.