From the moment the attacker began live-streaming his lethal assault on the Al-Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand, the significance of social media in driving the conversation about the incident was inevitable.
Despite local law enforcement alerting Facebook to the live broadcast of the attack on their platform, and rapid action taken by Facebook to prevent its spread, videos and images of the attack proliferated virally across multiple platforms – which could have been mitigated by better upfront design.
On Twitter, content concerning Islam and Muslim topics swelled to 10x its normal daily volume within hours of the news breaking, according to ADL’s analysis. While much of this content came from people expressing their shock and sadness, some used the white supremacist attack on Muslim worshipers as an opportunity to talk about violence conducted by Muslims rather than against them, and accounts that appear to be automated bots amplified this skewed message exponentially.
In collaboration with the social media monitoring start-up PushShift, ADL’s Center for Technology and Society (CTS) collected and analyzed over 17 million tweets from the period spanning 2019 March 7-21, from one week before until one week after the attack.
We used search terms related to the incident, including hashtags such as #Christchurchmosqueattacks, #NewZealandshooting, and #prayforchristchurch; terms related to Islam, such as “muslims” and “mosque;” and references to known white supremacist ideas, such as “white genocide” and “great replacement.”
All together we found 2 million matching tweets in the week before the attack, and 15 million tweets in the week after, with nearly all of the latter being captured in real-time, permitting us to examine even tweets that have since been deleted.
The data paint a pessimistic picture of online conversation in the wake of a white supremacist’s mass murder of Muslims, portraying both deliberate attempts to alter that conversation and the inability of social media to halt the spread of disinformation. Read more