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The gunman accused of killing 49 people at two New Zealand mosques Friday live-streamed the attack, emailed his manifesto to media outlets, and shared his racist and hateful messages online. Charlie Warzel, opinion writer-at-large for The New York Times and Joan Donovan of Harvard University join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss changing technology and the media's role and responsibilities.
Joining me now for a discussion about the media's role and responsibility are Charlie Warzel, opinion writer at-large for The New York Times and from Boston, Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Charlie let me start with you. This was designed to go viral. How?
So, you know this isn't the first act of violence or torture to be streamed live unfortunately in our in our modern era. What was different about this was in my mind the premeditated nature and sort of rather meticulous planning that went into setting up a couple of Twitter accounts that were created earlier this month to show pictures of some of the weapons that the shooter used, some of the body armor, to set up links to this manifesto to a couple of other documents. So there's this idea of not only is this attack going to be live streamed but there's going to be a trail for people to follow, the things inside that are going to be sort of engineered to sow discord to start fights to provoke and to get the media obviously, as we're all doing, to pick up on this.
Joan, when there is this kind of design there is kind of this engineering as Charlie mentioned, how do we stop the spread of this? You've called yesterday for the phrase I think is, strategic silence. How do we do that?
Yes so my research really centers on the ways in which press has interacted with white supremacists since the 1920s. That's one of the things that I research. I think journalists' responsibility in this moment has been really heightened by the fact that this person is really able to control the narrative by distributing this content online, which shifts the burden actually for strategic amplification to platform companies. And although the platform companies have been saying for years, we're trying, we're trying, in moments like this we actually need results.
Charlie, how do we do that idea that we are actively contributing to amplifying this signal. So how do we report on it, which is still important but in a way that doesn't fall into the trap that Joan is laying out?
I think it's a it's a massive challenge but I think in my own reporting something that I've tried to do is to talk much more about the mechanics and the idea of manipulation — how these platforms are being leveraged, demonstrating, walking, readers, listeners, viewers through how something like this takes place, how it was engineered to get you to fall into those traps and not focusing on the actual message of hate and violence is something that not only takes away the power of an extremist like that but also lays bare their philosophy and helps you sort of guard against it in further because there will be more these types of things.
Joan Donovan, I've also seen some critique last night saying, hey, you know what if this was a Muslim shooter and if he or she had put out a manifesto like this, the FBI and everyone else would go through every single paragraph, look at every possible inspiration whether it's a video game, it's a person, it's a politician and lay the blame squarely at their feet. Are we giving this instance some sort of a double standard?
I don't think so. I've seen a lot of people trying to hold the language used by the Trump administration accountable for the way in which people are starting to understand Islamophobia, anti-Semitism as well is you know this word 'invasion' has come up more than a few times. And you know we're dealing here with this manifesto in a very tired white nationalist conspiracy theory about white genocide and the depletion of the the white race. This exists online everywhere for all to see like, it's on every platform. It just hasn't been amplified to this degree because of the violence that was perpetrated in the name of the ideology.
And the point about law enforcement or the FBI, yeah we do know that the U.S. government is looking less and less at you know white nationalist groups in the U.S. and I think that's a really big problem. We're watching this burgeoning movement that, all movements have ebbs and flows, when movements are in most moments of success, there's a lot of fracture the coalition tends to break apart. And so an event like this can actually galvanize or or re animate a movement. And so I'm very happy to see that journalists are not calling up you know any neo nazi that they can find and giving them a new place to air their ideology. What I think is also difficult is you know I really want to talk about strategic silence and in relationship to white supremacist ideology. It's not always the case that we need to treat every single bad thing that happens online as the same thing. I think for white supremacists and white nationalists or white identity extremists, we need to have a very concerted strategy that focuses in on the actors and the influencers.
Joan Donovan from Harvard University and Charlie Warzel with the New York Times. Thank you.
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