On March 15, shootings at two mosques during Friday prayers in New Zealand left 51 Muslims dead. The massacre itself was horrific, but what made it even worse was that the shooter live streamed the event on Facebook.
Tech companies scrambled to remove the video after it appeared online, but they were unable to do so. Less than two weeks after the shooting, New Zealand officially banned people from sharing the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto or video.
Consequences for owning or sharing the video weren’t initially made clear. Then on Tuesday, a Neo-Nazi was sentenced to 21 months in prison for sharing a video of the Christchurch massacre, Gizmodo reported.
Philip Arps pled guilty to two counts of distributing objectionable material, New Zealand outlet RNZ reported. Arps sent it to about 30 people, but that’s not where he ended. He told the judge overseeing his case that the video — where bodies of dead children are visible — was “awesome.”
In addition, RNZ reported that Arps asked one person to add crosshairs and a body count to the video to “make it more fun.” The judged noted that Arps has compared himself to Adolf Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess.
Judge Stephen O’Driscoll said, according to RNZ:
“Your offending glorifies and encourages the mass murder carried out under the pretext of religious and racial hatred. It is clear from all the material before me that you have strong and unrepentant views towards the Muslim community. Your actions in distributing the day after the attack, when families were still waiting to hear whether family members had been killed, demonstrates particular cruelty on your part and callousness on your part.”
Although twelve other people in New Zealand have been charged with distributing the video, it seems that Arps was the only one who has received an official sentence so far.
The Christchurch shooting may have happened in New Zealand, but it’s important to note that United States-based companies had their platforms used to spread it.
From Facebook to Twitter, YouTube, and beyond, the 17-minute video was able to reach viral status. In early May, videos of the shooting could still be found on both Facebook and Instagram. Despite that, the U.S. refused to sign onto the Christchurch Call pledge to end hate online.
Social media platforms like Facebook have been used to encourage white supremacist violence before. Recently, an investigation by Reveal found that hundreds of former and active law enforcement officers were in Facebook groups promoting hatred and bigotry.
That’s not surprising for anyone who knows Facebook. As Megan Squire —a computer science professor from Elon University in North Carolina — pointed out to Reveal, Charlottesville was organized on Facebook.
The Christchurch shooting isn’t an event isolated to New Zealand. The United States has manufactured Islamophobic sentiments and the shooter identified U.S.-based YouTubers as his inspiration.
The United States — and companies within it — must be held accountable for the role they played too.