Last week, a heavily-armed 28-year-old entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and opened fire, killing at least 50 in the country’s worst modern shooting. Prior to attacking dozens of Muslim worshipers, the killer posted a manifesto, outlining why he planned to commit mass murder, and he livestreamed a portion of the gruesome act on Facebook. The video was then reportedly re-posted hundreds of thousands of times. As a result, three of the biggest mobile internet service providers in New Zealand have opted to temporarily block some of the websites where the video remains available.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is calling for the suspension of live streaming on social media in the wake of Friday's terrorist attack in New Zealand. Roughly 17 minutes of the attack was live streamed on Facebook and despite attempts by the authorities to suppress the video and the attacker's manifesto, it was shared exponentially across various social media platforms and news sites.
Customers of Spark, Vocus, or Vodafone may have difficulty accessing sites known for hosting objectionable material and which actively helped to mirror the 17 minutes of real-time murder footage after it had been pulled from Facebook. The blocked sites include imageboards 4chan and 8chan. The latter, a site which exists largely for those who believe 4chan itself is too heavily censored, is where the gunman initially published his manifesto.
Gizmodo was not able to independently verify claims that other sites, like file-sharing service Mega, video hosts LiveLeak and BitChute, caching tool Archive.is, and Kiwifarms have also become inaccessible to New Zealand customers. Either way, the blocks are believed to be temporary.
“Where material is identified, the site is temporarily blocked and the site is notified, requesting they remove the material,” Meera Kaushik, a member of Vodafone’s Comms team, told Bleeping Computer.
“This is an unprecedented move by the telecommunications industry, but one that they all agree is necessary,” Geoff Thorn, New Zealand’s Telecommunications Forum chief executive, told CIO. “The gunman clearly wanted his actions to be seen, but we do not believe that this is desirable and are doing what we can to prevent this from happening as much as possible.”
New Zealand laws regarding censorship and indecent content differ significantly from those in the U.S. The Department of Internal Affairs maintains a list of banned sites, mainly aimed at stanching the spread of child-abuse and -exploitation images, which are blocked at the DNS level by participating ISPs. Still, the response is an opportunity to contrast the attempts by U.S. social platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, to prevent users from sharing footage of the Christchurch shooting. Reddit, for instance, banned the community r/watchpeopledie, which was focused on real-life footage and images of fatal incidents. Facebook alone claims it took down one-and-a-half million copies of the massacre in a single day, and I’ll be willing to bet there are still many more hosted there.
Many imageboards—8chan among them—host deepweb mirrors accessible via the Tor browser, and the blocked sites may still be available to New Zealanders through the use of a VNP. The footage was initially streamed to Facebook Live, and it spread via YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit, none of which have been claimed to be blocked, so it’s unclear how effective this blockade will be at continuing to prevent New Zealanders from seeing the footage.
More effective in preventing future copycats in the country, New Zealand is already considering a country-wide ban on assault weapons. The internet is global, however, and while White House counselor Kellyanne Conway urged Fox & Friends viewers to read the gunman’s manifesto in its entirety, three were killed by a shooter this morning in Utrecht, Netherlands. The BBC reported that “mosques across the city have reportedly been closed due to security concerns.”