After every new horrific mass taking pictures, an all-too-familiar cycle typically performs out: Reporters (myself included) race to try to unpack an alleged shooter’s attainable motivations by piecing collectively clues from their social media accounts and on-line postings earlier than all of it will get scrubbed from the web. We do that within the hopes that it’ll someway present a window into their mindset within the months main as much as the assault, or at the least convey us considerably nearer to answering that finally unanswerable query: Why?
But this strategy carries with it probably harmful unintended penalties. At least 49 individuals had been killed on Friday throughout assaults on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and like clockwork the cycle started nearly instantly. But this time it was a bit completely different. The alleged shooter himself had supplied the world with extra solutions and attainable motivations for his personal actions than it appeared the web knew deal with.
Hours earlier than the assault, the alleged shooter took to Twitter and 8chan—an internet messaging board identified for its distinct model of toxicity—to announce his plans and share hyperlinks to a Facebook account which later live-streamed 17 minutes of the bloodbath. He additionally linked to a 74-page doc suffering from awkwardly positioned ironic memes and references to numerous poisonous ideologies that many information retailers have since deemed his “manifesto.” On 8chan, the hyperlinks had been accompanied by a request: “I have provided links to my [sic] my writings below, please do your part by spreading my message, making memes and shitposting as you usually do.”
The web largely did simply that. The gory first-person Facebook video of the taking pictures shortly went viral, spreading throughout social media platforms like wildfire earlier than platforms may take it down. Since then, pundits, analysts, and web sleuths have been publicly dissecting and deciphering every line of his prolonged manifesto—alongside together with his equally poisonous social media presence—turning public dialogue into one thing nearer to a string of far-right rabbithole key phrases.
There was no want for web sleuths to trace down his social media accounts and comb them for clues, as he broadcast their existence publicly: They had been, predictably, stuffed with extra made-to-provoke explanations for his actions. It was “a very clear instance of media manipulation,” designed with the world’s eye in thoughts, says Whitney Phillips, a Data and Society researcher who focuses on troll tradition and the amplification of extremism on-line.
“The goal of media manipulation as an act is to generate the most amount of coverage possible, including intense focus on the perpetrator,” says Phillips. “When journalists pore over motives and pore over all of the details of that person’s life, even if the reporter is disgusted by their actions, that person still becomes the protagonist of the movie—and that’s their goal: to be the central figure in this play.”
When we discuss in regards to the actions of extremists—particularly these with a hefty on-line presence—there’s this tendency to take their statements and assertions at face worth. It is sensible: If somebody, say, commonly tweets out hyperlinks to the Daily Stormer and predominantly interacts with neo-Nazis and white supremacists on-line, it’s cheap to imagine they most likely share these views. However, this strategy fails to keep in mind the person’s proclivity in direction of media manipulation.
In the case of the Christchurch shooter, Phillips says, he displayed “a self-conscious awareness of” the web at giant’s tendency to scour an alleged gunman’s posting historical past for clues, “which is what makes choosing to jump at the manipulator’s behest so incredibly dangerous.”
Engaging with the poisonous content material produced by media manipulators makes it almost unimaginable to keep away from amplifying their views. The curse of the amplification recreation is that an concept or assemble will get extra highly effective each time it is consumed, or rebroadcast.
To act extra responsibly, Phillips recommends reframing the narrative in order that it’s not the manipulator’s story. “The problem with so much of this coverage is that it falls into the trap of: It’s their world and we’re just living in it. Why does it get to be their story?” she added. “It just takes a lot of conscientious effort to figure out what are the bigger stories and how do we sidestep the stories that are ultimately just distractions.”