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New Zealand mosque terror attack: Why you shouldn't share the suspected shooters' propaganda

The i logo The i 15/03/2019 Serina Sandhu
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New Zealand PM implores public not to share images (Sky News)

The mass shooting in New Zealand marks the latest terror attack in which the suspected perpetrators have published video footage of the tragic events.

Some members of public have decided to share the harrowing footage, despite strongly-worded advice from authorities to refrain from doing so.

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Read more on the New Zealand mosque attack:

I prayed killer would run out of bullets, says witness (Newshub)

UK police patrol mosques and vow to 'stand together' with Muslims (The Independent)

New Zealand PM condemns 'unprecedented act of violence' (ABC News)

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Many share the footage to communicate the extent of the atrocity but experts say the suspected attackers are using the public as a vehicle to spread their propaganda.

At least 49 people have been killed after shots were fired at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday. Dozens more have been injured in what New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, described as a "terrorist attack".

a group of people sitting around a car © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

A gunman involved in the shooting broadcast live footage of the attack at one of the mosques on Facebook.

Authorities are also urging the public not to share a "manifesto" - published before the shooting and explaining the attack - which denounced immigrants.

Why do attackers share video footage?

Counter-terrorism experts say the use of video footage and the publishing of manifestos shows that attacks of this nature are not just about the victims.

They "are fundamentally about communicating with audiences beyond the victims," says Lee Jarvis, a counter-terrorism expert at the University of East Anglia.

"Although this isn't new - and links to very old ideas around terrorism as the 'propaganda of the deed' - new technologies make this attempt at communication easier.

a person is walking down the street © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

"This instrumentalisation of the victims - so that the harm they experience is simply a means to intimidate, or threaten, or affect others - is part of what makes these acts of violence so horrific," he adds.

Prof Jarvis points to other terrorist attacks in the last decade where attackers sought to gain extra exposure. Examples include the Paris shootings in 2015, where the attackers carried Go-Pro cameras with them and the 2013 attack on the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, where the attackers live tweeted their actions from inside the building.

Grieving members of the public following the shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch (Photo: Reuters)

Why should the public refrain from sharing the footage?

Serving in the interest of the attackers

Prof Jarvis says the public should be "very wary" about sharing footage of terrorist attacks of any communication from the suspected attackers.

"Doing so may well be illegal in some jurisdictions for potentially glorifying terrorism," he tells i.

And sharing the propaganda only "serves in the interests of those responsible for the attacks".

Others have echoed Prof Jarvis' message.

Dr Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard University, tweeted: "The manifesto is bait. It is loaded with keywords that lead down far-right rabbit holes. Do not repost."

Dr Donovan said "quarantine" was the best defence against spreading their message. "Most of the [New Zealand] shooter’s social media is new. It’s an attempt to get journalists to see a unified narrative," she added.

Preventing future attacks

Another reason to refrain from sharing the footage or the manifesto is to help prevent future attacks.

Research show many perpetrators take inspiration from the words and actions of other lone-actor terrorists, according to Paul Gill, a researcher in the behavioural underpinnings of terrorism and terrorist attacks at University College London. "Indeed, this individual name-checks similar offenders from Norway, Sweden, Italy, the US and the UK in his manifesto. This individual is explicitly trying to influence others into action by word and deed."

Watch: 'We could hear the ambulances but they couldn't get to us,' recounts tearful eyewitness (The Independent)

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The media plays an integral role in responsibly reporting the issue, which is paramount to managing future risk. "Oversimplifying his drivers, and sensationalising the outcomes of his attack might encourage others seeking similar notoriety," he adds.

Protecting victims and their families

The public should also be aware about the impact on the victims and their families.

"It will cause yet more hurt and harm to the victims, survivors and their loved ones," adds Prof Jarvis.

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