The Australian white supremacist who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand was radicalized by YouTube, according to a 792-page report on the March 2019 shooting.
“What particularly stood out was the statement that the terrorist made that he was ‘not a frequent commentator on extreme right-wing sites and YouTube was a significant source of information and inspiration’,” said Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, according to The Guardian. “This is a point I plan to make directly to the leadership of YouTube.”
This is not the first time YouTube has been linked to radicalization and white supremacist content. There has been an ongoing argument about whether YouTube’s algorithm pushes people toward more extreme views over time. Although this is not a universal conclusion, some researchers say that the combination of a business model that rewards edgy content and a personalized algorithm meant to keep viewers hooked is a recipe for radicalization.
YouTube has made “significant progress” in curtailing hate speech since the 2019 Christchurch attack, says Alex Joseph, a YouTube spokesperson. YouTube strengthened its hate speech policy, terminated the channels mentioned in the report, and has altered its recommendations system to limit the spread of “borderline content.” “We will continue our work together with the Prime Minister, as well as governments, industry partners, and communities around the world to combat the spread of violent extremism online,” Joseph said in an emailed statement.
The report’s mentions of YouTube are part of a larger inquiry into the hate crime to see if it could have been prevented. The shooter sent an email to Parliament, the Prime Minister’s office, and news outlets eight minutes before he began his attack, according to the report. His manifesto was attached to the email.
The authorities weren’t the only ones the shooter alerted. His manifesto was also posted to 8chan, a message board that often hosts far-right content; included in the post was a link to a Facebook page, where the poster said a livestream of the attack would be broadcast. (Facebook later removed the page and video.)
A 17-minute video that appeared to show the shooting was uploaded to Facebook YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. The video and the manifesto were mirrored worldwide and re-uploaded to platforms repeatedly over the following days, often faster than platforms could take them down.
The report goes on to say that though the shooter frequented far-right message boards on 4chan and 8chan, the evidence shows a more substantial use of YouTube. The shooter also modified his firearms before the attacks using YouTube tutorials.
The shooter also used his Facebook account to discuss Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf, particularly the parts about propaganda that could draw in new extremists, in a group called The Lads Society Season Two. He often posted Islamophobic rhetoric in the group, the report said.