July 16, 2019 | 85° F

SAJU: Weaponization of social media intensifies damages of hate


Opinion Column: Pride, Not Prejudice


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“Terrorism is the propaganda of the deed, and the terrorist is always as interested in his audience as his victim … But social media makes this vector much more powerful. We become host to the virus, and we accelerate its spread,” said Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and consultant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The shooting on March 15 in New Zealand, which targeted Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque as well as Linwood Mosque, has left 50 individuals dead and countless grieving family members around the world. Gathering for Friday prayer were immigrants and refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, as well as other nations. 

The carnage of the attack not only forever scarred the individuals present and horrified any sane individual who heard the news, but it was also able to be replayed because the gunman had a camera strapped to his helmet. The shooter streamed live video of the attack on Facebook, and that 17-minute video “is one of the most disturbing, high-definition records of a mass-casualty attack of the digital age — a grotesque first-person-shooter documentation of man’s capacity for inhumanity,” according to The New York Times.

Terrorism feasts on prejudice and misinformation. The age of information, while drastically improving an individual’s access to the world around them, has allowed the presence of terrorism to flourish on the dark web. The world wide web has “provided people with minority-held beliefs a space to connect with other like-minded people in a way that can normalize their world view,” said Lee Jarvis, co-editor of the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism to CNN. As a result, these typically small groups are leaving the margins behind to worm their way into mainstream society. 

The video of this attack is meant to spread the shooter’s agenda. While social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube scrambled to take down the violent content, they were unable to match the speed of their users. The video was downloaded and mirrored to other platforms — the pure hatred present in the attacks was allowed to seep into the crevices of the dark web and further poison our world. 

After analyzing the shooter’s digital footprint, his support for a white nationalist agenda was obvious. He was a man who appeared to be immersed in the culture of the extreme-Right internet. He wanted the attention of the world, and by targeting a holy site and slaying innocent people while they prayed, he got it. 

The entire attack seemed orchestrated for the social media age, as the shooter posted an anonymous message on 8chan, a forum that usually features racist posts, including his 87-page manifesto right before the attack. The manifesto he created, which was filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, offers evidence of his motives. 

In this document, he refers to nonwhites as “invaders” who threaten to “replace” white people. The specific references in the manifesto to online meme culture reveals how the shooter was deeply immersed in white nationalist internet forums as well, and his activity online suggests a type of nationalist hatred that is an internet-driven evolution. 

The gunman also emailed his manifesto to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as well as dozens of lawmakers and media personnel right before the attack (he also posted the manifesto online). 

On Saturday, March 16, Arden visited the members of the Muslim community at a refugee center in Christchurch to pay tribute to the victims and offer support for the community. She stated that families who lost a loved one, especially if that individual was been the breadwinner of the family, would receive financial support. Arden has also promised to change gun laws, and her vow is opening up the political debate on gun control in New Zealand. 

It must be noted that the opinion of every single individual is valid — unless, of course, that opinion interferes with someone else’s ability to live. The mere existence of another person should not endanger your own. The shooter felt threatened by the presence of Muslims in his country, but he was the one pulling the trigger of a weapon emblazoned with references to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”

People like this gunman have no place in their community and no place in our world. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Now is the time to support the families who have lost someone, and take steps to make sure this type of terrifying situation never happens again because that is the only way to ensure that something like this will never happen to you. 

Neha Saju is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student planning on majoring in political science and history and minoring in English. Her column, "Pride, Not Prejudice," runs on alternate Mondays.

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Neha Saju

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