The gunmen who attacked two mosques in March last year in Christchurch, New Zealand, frequently visited YouTube as “a significant source of information and inspiration” rather than extreme right-wing websites, according to an inquiry report submitted by a Royal Commission that was appointed by the Kiwi government. Although the attacker, Brenton Tarrant, had visited extremist chat rooms and forums on other websites like Reddit, 4chan and 8chan, YouTube played a far more influential role, the report says.
The terror attack, which led to the deaths of 51 people and 40 others severely injuring, was livestreamed by Tarrant on Facebook and subsequently, copies of the footage were circulating on various websites like YouTube and Reddit, the commission’s report says. “Days after the terrorist attack, the manifesto and the video were classified as objectionable by New Zealand’s Chief Censor, making it illegal to possess and distribute them. Both are, however, still available on websites based outside of New Zealand,” it says.
Based on his deposition before commission, the report says that Tarrant used YouTube to find tutorials and instructions on how package firearm parts that he had purchased to modify his own firearms which included a semi-automatic rifles and shotguns and a lever action rifle. Tarrant also made financial contributions to podcasts and groups on social media websites like YouTube, the report says.
With content creators allowed to freely upload videos on YouTube, including political content, the Google-owned video-streaming platform has been in between providing a free website to the creators and censorship or content moderation.
“There has been much debate about the way YouTube’s recommendation system works. One theory is that this system drove users to ever more extreme material into what is sometimes said to be a “rabbit-hole”. An alternative theory is that the way in which YouTube operates facilitates and has monetised the production of videos that attract viewers and the widespread availability of videos supporting far right ideas reflects the demand for such videos,” the report says. However, it added that YouTube has made some changes their recommendation system, which would reduce access and distribution of extreme content.
In an interview to AAP, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that she would discuss the implications of the report and the role placed by YouTube in radicalising the attacker with the company’s leadership, the Guardian reported. “What particularly stood out was the statement that the terrorist made that he was ‘not a frequent commentator on extreme right-wing sites and YouTube was a significant source of information and inspiration…This is a point I plan to make directly to the leadership of YouTube,” she said.