An overview of recent events
On March 15, 2019, New Zealand was shocked by a brutal massacre, causing 50 deaths and 50 wounded. The tragedy took place in two mosques, Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Mosque; both located in Christchurch and expected to be the busiest mosques in anticipation of the midday Friday prayer. The shooter, a 28-year-old Australian posted a manifesto and uploaded a live-stream of the shooting on Facebook. At first, the video was only viewed around 200 times. However, 29 minutes later, the number multiplied reaching around 4000 times and the video quickly went viral before Facebook managed to removed the video from its website. In total, Facebook claimed to have removed 1.5 million videos in the first 24 hours of the incident. The livestream continued for 17 minutes before being removed “within minutes” by Facebook after being notified by the New Zealand Police. As the live-stream was watched by thousands of people worldwide, negative comments regarding the tragedy also continue to pop up before being successfully blocked by both Facebook and the New Zealand Police. A Canterbury University student even mentioned that these comments were conveyed “in a joking, ironic tone, which makes it hard for algorithms to clean up”. The instantaneous spread of this hateful content questions the efficiency of social media filters and whether internet content can really be deleted from its online presence.
Omnipresence of social media content
It is common knowledge that internet content is widely ubiquitous online even if best efforts are made to delete offensive, explicit and violent material. There have been many cases where online content has resurfaced, instigating unrest and controversy in many industries and facets of society. On the 22nd of December, 2012, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn posted that statement on Twitter and 5 and a half years later, he was fired as director. Eight months later, James Gunn is rehired as director of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise amidst a wave of “passionate protests” to his firing. Throughout this tumultuous period, the seemingly eternal stockpile power of social media content, has never been so clear before. Throwaway comments thought of in that instance, jokes that may have once not been so strictly frowned upon and “stuff written largely off the cuff as ephemera”, are now preserved in the time-capsule that is the internet. And it can, and has been, weaponised. Director James Gunn was a prime example of such an attack. Conspiracy theorist Michael Cernovich resurfaced many of Gunn’s tweets from nearly a decade ago, uncovering many tasteless and extremely inappropriate tweets that glorified rape culture and pedophilia. While the director may have changed his ways and beliefs, he is not the only target of the “weaponisation” that the internet is on the road to becoming. Another film director, Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) made the move to delete 20,000 tweets that dated back to 2009, in a bid to avoid the “trolls [that] scrutinize… for ammunition”, going so far as to label the internet a “potential weapon”. Regarding the Christchurch attacks, the video is still supposedly available for watch in some underground sites, which amplifies the chilling and devastating effect of the massacre. The question must be asked, to what extent does the longevity and “unable to be deleted” aspects of social media content impact and disturb the victims and only strengthen the power of the perpetrators.
Economic effects on social media
In this day and age, there are economic effects seen far and wide following the exploitation of social media as a means of extremist propaganda. The Facebook share price fell 3.3%, closing the day 2.5% lower. The drastic drop in share price also coincided with the departure of Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, as well as WhatsApp Vice President Chris Daniels. Public perception of all social media platforms involved in the catastrophe has greatly diminished as they question the legitimacy of the so-called high quality censorship and artificial intelligence involved to quickly detect and remove such violent content.
Understanding of the actual rules and regulations surrounding inappropriate content is still considered somewhat hazy. It was only on Tuesday 24th April 2018 that Facebook publicly released its Community Standards, a list of official rules that outlines the types of posts that can get a user banned from using the platform. Facebook classifies different types of unacceptable content into six categories, one of which is “Violence and Criminal Behaviour”. It includes all threats and calls to violence, as well as content that classifies as a threat to public or personal safety. Under these guidelines, Facebook blocks and is working to continue to block content such as those deemed as terrorist activity, organised hate, mass or serial murder, and human trafficking. Previously, the list of guidelines for inappropriate content had been a secret and this information asymmetry may have only exacerbated the negative share price drop.
Reformation of laws and regulation following the attacks
The recent mass shooting has created a number of censorship and free-speech concerns for the government and lawmaking bodies in New Zealand. Shortly after the shooting, the suspected gunman published a 74-page document promoting murder, racism and terrorism. On Saturday 23 March, 2019 New Zealand’s government banned the possession or sharing of the document that was uploaded to the gunman’s twitter account. If discovered with the file on one’s computer or having a printed copy of it, a person could face 10 years in jail. If one is caught sending the document to others via the internet, a person could be faced with 14 years in jail. The country’s government also banned the reported gunman’s 17-minute video earlier in the week. The video footage shot of the attack is officially deemed as objectionable under New Zealand’s Privacy Act 1993, which gives the government discretion to ban certain materials for the public good. New Zealand has classified some propaganda by the militant group ISIS under the same classification in the past.
To combat the sharing of violent material on social media platforms, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also threatening to impose harsh punishments on social media firms if they fail to voluntarily take action to restrain the spread of extremist material on their platforms. Morrison’s proposal would make it an offence to fail to remove offending footage as quickly as possible. It would also be an offence to fail to rapidly remove footage that authorities have labelled as violent, and ordered to be taken down. Failure to follow the rules of this proposed legislative crackdown could result in jail time for executives of tech giants, including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Youtube.
The CAINZ Digest is published by CAINZ, a student society affiliated with the Faculty of Business at the University of Melbourne. Opinions published are not necessarily those of the publishers, printers or editors. CAINZ and the University of Melbourne do not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in the publication.
Maggie is a first-year Commerce student who moved to Melbourne from Brisbane at the start of 2018. She first developed a keen interest in Economics during high school and now wants to pursue a career in the Financial Services industry. When she’s not monitoring the latest market news, you can find her playing cards or making short films with her friends.