New Zealand has just experienced what could be its deadliest mass shooting in history, an event prime minster Jacinda Ardern called “an unprecedented act of violence”, and Australia‘s media has been tripping over itself for hours, fumbling in a race to see who can do The Worst Thing harder and faster than everyone else.
Around 2PM local time a man livestreamed himself entering a Christchurch mosque with a gun and opening fire.
The footage was downloaded, spread, and disseminated across every possible platform – including on Twitter, where an account tweeted out downloadable links of the video, as well as two versions of a 74-page manifesto called ‘The Great Replacement’, a title which alludes to a decades old far-right conspiracy theory.
It wasn’t long before people started finding these videos and the manifesto itself – in truth, it was easy to find.
And while it’s hard to point blame at people for easily finding something that had been deliberately and carefully blasted across the internet – that’s a finger more easily pointed at Facebook – the Australian media quickly went about sharing details, quotes, and pictures in a way that only benefits the sick fucks who created it in the first place.
I have seen the manifesto. I have read large parts of it. Let me be clear: this long, sprawling document is designed to be reported on. It is full of the sort of ironic shitposting that fills the internet, and it hits all of the beats the media will look for when trying to find angles for the story. It’s engineered for that.
But this is a troll in its ugliest and most horrific form. It is thick with irony. It can be, and has been, misinterpreted. There is no reason to “explain” it – that’s exactly what they want. Why describe it immediately? Why try to look at this document and tie his motives to a YouTuber, a video game, or a meme? This document is not intended as an honest manifesto – it is intended as propaganda.
As author J.M. Berger wrote in The Atlantic just last month:
In leaving a record, killers seek to situate their actions as driven by purpose rather than madness. Such efforts do not always strike gold…All the journalistic restraint in the world will not stop killers from memorialising their actions, and it will not stop extremists from fixating on those memoirs. But the success of terrorism is measured largely by its reach.
On Friday afternoon, shortly after Australia’s news programs began transitioning their reporting from a One Story Event to full 24-hour coverage, it all started to go wrong.
ABC News – the national broadcaster – decided to read part of the manifesto out live on air. This was before anything had been confirmed. And while it was likely that this document was related to the shooting, police had not announced anything other than confirming there was an active shooter situation in the city.
Soon, reports flowed in that other outlets were publishing photos of the shooter’s gun and magazines, uploaded to the shooter’s alleged Twitter account. Why do you think those images were even tweeted before the event? They were left for someone. The very same social media accounts the media has used to identify the shooter were only days old. They were created to form a narrative and a story.
Eventually, the decision was made by one, then two, then even more outlets to publish parts of the live-streamed footage that showed the gunman walking into the mosque. Some of this footage was so hastily scraped and uploaded pre-roll advertisements weren’t turned off.
I’m sure the Bondi Vet will be thrilled that his new show was advertised before footage of a mass shooting.
More details about the dogs who did this will inevitably come, once there is time to analyse the available evidence more forensically.
But the rumour mill has already started. In New Zealand, there are reports that nearly every major outlet has shown pictures and video from the shooting – or posted links to the manifesto itself.
The manifesto, the videos, and the killers behind this should not be ignored. But the work they leave behind does not need to be disseminated in exactly the way they want it to be.
Dozens of people have died and they died in a place where they should have been safe. That is what we should highlight. That is what we should not forget.
I am not going to quote this manifesto, I am not going to link to it, and neither should you.