Video of the Christchurch mosque shootings has resurfaced on Twitter - but the social media giant initially refused to remove the terror clip, claiming the reported account that posted it “hasn’t broken our safety policies”.
Following Herald inquiries and an intervention by the Department of Internal Affairs, Twitter has now pulled the content, which had been viewed by more than 1000 accounts.
Despite the video of Brenton Tarrant’s attack being illegal in New Zealand, a June 18 post with the video appeared in a Kiwi user’s “For You” feed. He reported the account to Twitter.
Twitter replied: “After reviewing the available information, we want to let you know [the account] hasn’t broken our safety policies. We know this isn’t the answer you’re looking for. If this account breaks our policies in the future, we’ll notify you.”
A summary of “what isn’t allowed on Twitter” followed, including threatening or promoting terrorism, celebrating or praising violence, and promoting violence, threatening or harassing people because of their identity.
Tarrant was convicted of committing a terrorist act, murdering 51 people, and attempting to murder 40 more at two Christchurch mosques on March 15, 2019. He livestreamed the attack on the internet.
Former Chief Censor David Shanks officially banned the 16-minute and 55-second video soon after it was first posted, labelling it as “objectionable”.
“The video promotes and supports the infliction of extreme violence and cruelty,” the decision summary said.
“The video is clearly intended to record, share and glorify the acts of extreme violence and cruelty, namely the graphic mass murder of unsuspecting victims who are powerless to resist,” Shanks said.
When the Herald approached Twitter for comment, the social media company’s press office sent an automated response of a poo emoji.
About half an hour after the Herald contacted Twitter, the video was removed.
A spokeswoman for the Classification Office said it was illegal for anyone in New Zealand to view, possess or distribute the video - “including via social media platforms”.
The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) was responsible for compliance and enforcement, she said.
The Herald has approached the DIA for comment.
A spokeswoman for police said anyone who becomes aware of the video being shared on social media should report it to police immediately.
“Knowingly possessing or sharing objectionable material carries a possible prison sentence.”
Paul Ash, a coordinator for the Christchurch Call - a group of more than 120 governments and major tech companies that agreed to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online - said they were aware of the video.
“We contacted Twitter to make them aware of the content, the seriousness of it, and our expectation that the video is removed from their platform as soon as possible,” Ash said.
“The tweet has been removed and we have asked our Christchurch Call counterparts at Twitter to look into this matter.
“As a supporter of the Christchurch Call, Twitter has committed to immediately removing and preventing the upload of terrorist and violent extremist content, including this video.”
If anyone saw the video, they should report it immediately to DIA or police, Ash said.
Some people have already been prosecuted for sharing and possessing the video, including a Tauranga man who shared the video footage with eight people, after advertising that he had it and was willing to send it to “anyone who wanted it, was jailed.
David Noble posted on Facebook “I’ve got the video if anyone wants it”.
“Just ask an I’ll pm it to you,” he wrote.
While some on Facebook “abused” Nobel for this, others asked for the graphic footage. He forwarded a link of the footage to eight people.
To those who objected, he said: “I have the right to watch it and so does everyone else to make an informed decision about gun law reform.”
Christchurch man and known white supremacist Philip Arps was also jailed for 21 months for sharing the video with 30 people.
A 16-year-old who had a copy of video was initially charged with distributing objectionable material but later admitted a lesser charge of possessing the banned footage.
Tarrant was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.