Terror in Chch

Mosque attack video still online

Researchers at the Counter Extremism Project have identified at least 14 different websites where footage of the Christchurch terror attack can be accessed, a year after the shootings took place, Marc Daalder reports

A study from researchers at the Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit organisation that targets extremists of all stripes, shows the difficulty of ever fully scrubbing something from the internet.

The study found footage of the Christchurch terror attack is accessible on at least 14 different websites, ranging from far-right messageboards to encrypted chat apps like Telegram to Google Drive.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said the company "has clear policies that prohibit violence and terrorist content. We take these issues very seriously and we remove files violating these policies when flagged by our users."

CEP researchers told Newsroom the video, which had been compressed into a .zip file and uploaded to the file sharing service, had been accessible since March 15, 2019. The link to the file was shared on a far-right, Twitter-like service called Gab.

The video was also available on Kim Dotcom-founded Mega.NZ, CEP researchers said. Mega executive chairman Stephen Hall told Newsroom the video was taken down within three minutes of the site being notified about its presence.

Various copies of the video were available on Telegram, which has played host to far-right chats since 8chan was taken down in August. One copy of the video had 8,500 views. Another had 3,000.

Only one of the 14 websites and applications is blocked in New Zealand, and that only by one Internet Service Provider. The imageboard 8kun, the successor to 8chan, is blocked by 2degrees but can still be accessed by Vodafone and Spark NZ customers.

In the immediate aftermath of March 15, ISPs scrambled to block copies of the video, which had originally been livestreamed on Facebook. They eventually unblocked all of the websites in question, saying private companies should not be responsible for censoring the internet.

"The Christchurch 15 March attack was unimaginable, and in extreme circumstances Vodafone took immediate steps to limit widespread access to abhorrent content related to the attack, by blocking websites who were hosting the content. Since then, however, we have been consistent in asserting it’s inappropriate for ISPs to decide deciding what New Zealanders can or cannot access in the longer term," Rich Llewellyn, Vodafone NZ's head of external affairs, told Newsroom.

2degrees' chief of corporate affairs Mat Bolland said: "At the time, we took the unprecedented step of blocking access to sites we were advised were hosting the footage. The aim was to ensure our customers were protected from seeing harmful content that was being distributed at the time. It was the right thing to do at the time, but we appreciate that it put ISPs in the position of censoring internet content."

"ISPs are not qualified to assess harmful content and it’s not practical – or fair - to ask our people to constantly scan the internet to look for this kind of content."

Newsroom reported in January that the Government is planning to introduce a bill that would give it the power to issue takedown notices and create voluntary or mandatory internet filters.

Nonetheless, the persistence of the video online shows how it is impossible to ever completely scrub something from the internet.

"I very much doubt that" it can be eradicated from the internet, Hall said. "Just with the number of downloads from Facebook it had in the first 24 hours, I imagine it will be sitting on peoples' hard drives forever."

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