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March 15, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 7:31am

Mosque massacre: Social media battles to remove terror attack videos as press face criticism over coverage

By James Walker and Freddy Mayhew

Social media platforms today battled to remove footage of the New Zealand mosque massacre, which was streamed live on Facebook by one of the alleged killers, as it was continually re-uploaded.

Forty-nine people were killed in a mass shooting targeting two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand today. Police have charged one man in his late 20s with murder and have arrested a further two suspects.

The UK tabloid press has also faced criticism for using edited footage of the Facebook livestream of the attack in its online coverage.

In a statement, Downing Street said the Government had been clear that “all companies need to act more quickly to remove terrorist content”, but noted that Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and others had taken action.

New Zealand Police has asked that footage of the attack is not shared online and said it is working to have videos removed.

Youtube has said it is “working vigilantly to remove any violent footage”.

A Facebook spokesperson said: “New Zealand Police alerted us to a video on Facebook shortly after the livestream commenced and we quickly removed both the shooter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and the video.

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“We’re also removing any praise or support for the crime and the shooter or shooters as soon as we’re aware.” The platform added that it would “continue working directly with New Zealand Police as their response and investigation continues.”

The incident comes ahead of a Government white paper on online harms, which is expected to be published soon.

Among tabloid titles facing criticism is the Mirror, which took down one video containing parts of the livestream that some reports claim showed worshippers being shot.

Press Gazette understands the Mirror denies the video included footage of violence before it was removed.

The group editor-in-chief of Mirror-owner Reach, Lloyd Embley, said on Twitter: “For a brief period this morning the Mirror website ran some edited footage filmed by the gunman in Christchurch.

“We should not have carried this. It is not in line with our policy relating to terrorist propaganda videos.”

The Sun and Mail Online both ran clips from the livestream video in their coverage and a GIF (a short video) on their homepages which showed the shooter drawing a gun at the entrance to the mosque.

Neither has shown footage of violence against worshippers.

Both the Sun and Mail Online have since changed the GIFs to still images. It appears Mail Online has also taken down a video containing edited footage from the livestream, although it did not show any violence.

Mail Online allowed readers to download a manifesto, written by one of the suspected terrorists, in full from its website, according to Buzzfeed, but has since removed it. Images of parts of the document are still online.

The Express has included a screenshot of the attacker raising his gun at the mosque in its coverage of the attack.

A Mail Online spokesperson said: “In common with many other news organisations around the world, Mail Online carried for a time a very short excerpt from beginning of the Christchurch mosque gunman’s video that showed no violence or victims.

“On further reflection, we decided to remove it some hours ago.”

A Sun spokesperson said: “We recognise that in the aftermath of horrific events such as these there will be sensitivities around reporting, and we take those responsibilities seriously.

“We have thought long and hard about how much of the easily available material currently on social media we should host on our site in order to shed light on this barbarous attack and the twisted ‘motive’ behind it.

“We have not published any video which depicts any act of actual violence, nor have we published or linked to the hate-filled manifesto.”

Press Gazette understands that The Sun website had sought to edit the amount of advertising that appeared on its website homepage this morning.

The London North Eastern Railway commercial director Suzanne Donnelly has tweeted that the company was not happy with its advert appearing around a Mail Online article featuring clips from the livestream video.

Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson said he found it “deeply concerning and irresponsible” that news outlets were using clips from the livestream after New Zealand authorities asked for it not to be shared.

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