Twitter Failed to Flag Christchurch Shooting Video Re-Uploads

Twitter removed videos of the mosque murders on Sunday only after notification from the New Zealand government.

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Twitter has taken down videos of the 2019 Christchurch Terrorist Attack
Image: CHRIS DELMAS (Getty Images)

Twitter removed newly posted videos on Sunday of the Christchurch mosque shootings only after the clips were flagged as harmful content by the New Zealand government.

Users had alerted the government to the video after it was posted on the social network the day before. After clips were re-uploaded Saturday, the company’s automated software for detecting harmful content failed flag them, according to the New Zealand government. The government notified the company of the presence of the clips, and a spokesperson for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told The Guardian, “Twitter advised us overnight that the clips have been taken down and said they would do a sweep for other instances.”

Though Twitter has repeatedly promised to become more cognizant of harmful content on its platform, the spokesperson told The Guardian that “time will tell” if Twitter will live up to its pledges. The company has faced moderation setbacks after CEO Elon Musk laid off approximately half of Twitter employees earlier this month, prompting issues policing harmful content like racist tweets.

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The Christchurch video clips were first recorded and live-streamed on multiple media platforms by Brenton Tarrant, an Australian white supremacist who pleaded guilty to murdering 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019. The clips and the shooter’s manifesto have become popular memes in white supremacist circles online.

Ardern founded Christchurch Call with French President Emmanuel Macron after the terrorist attack, an agreement between governments and online service providers to cooperate in eliminating harmful content and violent extremism online. Christchurch Call membership puts the responsibility on Twitter to delete and monitor the content, according to Ardern. The U.S. declined to join.

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“We will continue to maintain our expectation that [Twitter does] everything they can on a day-to-day basis to remove that content but also to reduce terrorist content and violent extremist content online, as they’ve committed to,” Ardern said in a press conference Monday.

Twitter did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, as it no longer has a communications department.

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Musk posted on Twitter last week that hate speech on the platform has decreased by one-third since October and he included a chart reflecting the downturn in “hate speech impressions,” though online safety experts called his metrics into question. While Ardern acknowledged the recent turbulence at Twitter, she says she doesn’t expect the company to defer from the agreement with Christchurch Call.

“Obviously some of the layoffs we’ve seen have been in the content management space,” Ardern said.

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She continued, “The advice that we’ve received from Twitter is that they have not changed their view on [Christchurch Call] membership. We will continue to maintain our expectation that they do everything they can on a day-to-day basis to remove that content, but also to reduce terrorist content and violent extremist content online as they’ve committed to.”