At least 49 people were killed in mass shootings at two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers on what the prime minister called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” the Associated Press reports.
One man was arrested and charged with murder in what appeared to be a carefully planned racist attack. Police defused explosive devices in a car. Two other people were being held in custody.
Before the killings, the shooter logged on Twitter and 8chan, an online message board, to post photos of ammunition and his far-right manifesto. He also linked to a Facebook page, where he promised that he would livestream an impending mass shooting, reports the Columbia Journalism Review.
In the hours after the attacks, the video and manifesto spread widely across social media. The The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell tweeted that the massacre “was livestreamed on Facebook, announced on 8chan, reposted on YouTube, commentated about on Reddit, and mirrored around the world before the tech companies could even react.”
When platforms started to take the content down by deleting accounts thought to be linked to the gunman, it swiftly appeared elsewhere. “It is highly concerning that these materials were able to spread so quickly on social media,” said the journalism review, adding that “some news organizations chose to boost the signal of the hateful messages.”
In Australia, several outlets published (non-graphic) parts of the video. Despite requests from prime minister Ardern and the police, Sky News Australia looped footage from it on television.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” and that many of the victims could be migrants or refugees. In addition to the dead, she said more than 20 people were seriously wounded. “It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said.
Police took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation of 5 million. While there was no reason to believe there were any more suspects, Ardern said the national security threat level was being raised from low to high, the second-highest level.
The investigation extended 240 miles to the south, where homes in Dunedin were evacuated around a “location of interest.” Authorities have not specified who they detained, but said none had been on any watch list.
A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for the attack. He said he was a 28-year-old white Australian and a racist. Police Commissioner Mike Bush said a man had been charged with murder. He did not say whether police believed the same shooter was responsible for both attacks.