Halle’s underrated impact online

On October 9th, 2019 a gunman attacked a synagogue in Halle, Germany killing two people. He tried to get into the synagogue where dozens of people were observing a Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. The attacker, a German man in his 20s, live-streamed the attack on gaming platform Twitch, which is owned by Amazon. The company quickly commented that they “worked with urgency to remove this content and will permanently suspend any accounts found to be posting or reposting content of this abhorrent act.”

In the video that the attacker posted, he was seen making misogynistic and anti-Semitic statements tot he camera, including denying the Holocaust, the BBC reported after the incident. This content spread also in other social media channels. On October 19th Reuters reported that Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google decline to release data of the online spread of this footage. The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, an initiative founded by Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft, said after the attack that the content related to Halle was ‘significantly less impactful online’ than the footage from the Christchurch attack in New Zealand in March.

After the Christchurch attack, Facebook removed 1,5m copies of the video during the first 24 hours. In Halle’s case, the companies declined to release data on how many people had seen the footage and how many of the videos were taken down automatically by their systems. This even though all of the companies (Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft and Amazon) put out a joint statement and pledged their support for the so called ‘Christchurch Call’ which was initiated in May 2019 and aims to prevent the dissemination of terrorist and violent extremist content.

Photo: The Local

Facebook and Microsoft did not respond to the Guardian about how they decide when to disclose data around attacks, and Google did not respond to requests for comments at all. Twitter noted that they disclose data on terrorist content removals twice a year in a transparency report.

How important is it to immediately share this data? After Christchurch happened, it was seen as a ‘watershed event’ because it forced many to reckon that there are white supremacy networks and an unregulated web; the attack showed that those factors are having an influence and they have not been taken seriously. Zahed Amanullah, Senior Fellow in the Institute for Strategic Dialogue says that because of faster information dissemination, those inspired by the attack are now amplifying their places online. He notes that in Christchurch case, “it looks like they were acting alone in terms of planning but they’re not acting alone in terms of being inspired”. The influence of the Christchurch manifesto was for example seen in synagogue attack in San Diego.

While the companies pledged their support for Christchurch call, it doesn’t actually contain any regulatory measures, and it would be up to each company to decide how it would act in the issue. However, as Halle, San Diego and other examples prove it is not about the volume of people reached and therefore the decision not to share data is not only short-sighted but against the attempt to support causes preventing dissemination of extremist content.

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