Additional details have come out about a shooting in Germany that was livestreamed on Twitch earlier this week, and the case only continues to grow more disturbing.
Stephan Balliet, a 27-year-old far-right extremist, confessed to killing two people and injuring several others near a synagogue in Halle, Germany, as part of an anti-Semitic attack timed with Yom Kippur, the BBC reported. Before the incident, per Buzzfeed News, the gunman purportedly uploaded a manifesto to an online forum announcing the upcoming “live testing” of his homemade weapons. The post included a link to a channel called “spilljuice” on Twitch, an Amazon-owned streaming platform popular among gamers, that livestreamed the shooting for 35 minutes.
The gunman posted the manifesto on Meguca, an online anime message board, in a now-deleted thread Buzzfeed News shared screenshots of on Friday. Over the course of 16 incredibly disconcerting pages, he outlines how he plans to “prove the viability” of his arsenal of improvised weaponry by “kill[ing] as many anti-White as possible, jews preferred” and making the footage go viral. He also lists specific body counts as “achievments” with names like “Chosen to die” and “Midnight Genocide,” as if the attack was a video game with a point system. One of his objectives also harkens back to this delusion: “Bonus: Don’t die.” The manifesto also name-drops the infamous online forum 8chan, features a fake ad with a picture of an anime girl with cat ears, and promises other users that they can “View the live-stream to find out more.”
This week’s incident follows a disconcerting pattern that’s becoming entirely too familiar at this point. The suspected shooter at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart earlier this year purportedly posted a racist, anti-immigrant message to 8chan before an attack that left 20 people dead and dozens more injured. In it, he referenced the Christchurch, New Zealand, massacre in March, where plans to attack a local mosque were similarly posted on the forum before a gunman livestreamed himself killing 51 people on Facebook.
As with the Christchurch livestream, footage of the Halle shooting quickly spread to platforms like Twitter and 4chan despite Twitch removing the original video. In the 30 minutes it remained up before being flagged, a recording of the stream was viewed by 2,200 people. Five viewers also watched it live, Twitch wrote in a Twitter thread on October 10.
We’re continuing to investigate the Halle event and would like to share what we’ve uncovered. The account owner streamed this horrific act live on Twitch for 35 minutes, during which time it was viewed by approximately five people.
— Twitch (@Twitch) October 9, 2019
“We are shocked and saddened by the tragedy that took place in Germany today, and our deepest condolences go out to all those affected,” a Twitch spokesperson previously told Gizmodo. “Twitch has a zero-tolerance policy against hateful conduct, and any act of violence is taken extremely seriously. We worked with urgency to remove this content and will permanently suspend any accounts found to be posting or reposting content of this abhorrent act.”
Multiple countries worldwide and five of the biggest names in tech have committed to fighting violent extremist content online since the Christchurch massacre, but this week’s incident shows just how far this content can spread even when platforms provide a quick response. Megan Squire, a senior fellow with the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, mapped how the video travelled across Telegram, spreading from just two accounts to more than 15,000 in less than 30 minutes.
How the Halle shooter's media content flowed through Telegram in < 30 minutes. There are two source channels, one for a long video, another for a short clip. Each video was amplified via "forwards" by smaller channels, shown in black. Total audience was ~15,625 accounts. pic.twitter.com/IX7E1Vqkf4
— megan squire (@MeganSquire0) October 9, 2019
Individual countries and websites have begun taking steps to stymie the spread of this kind of content with moves like legislation to block domains hosting this kind of content or instituting one-strike policies on livestreaming platforms. But when fighting a beast with this many heads, I’m not sure if these kinds of unilateral approaches will make much of a dent. Online virality isn’t limited by geography or platform, so stopping it may take a coalition that isn’t either.