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NZ mosque bloodbath: 49 dead after terror attack in Christchurch

Oh the nauseating thoughts and prayers of our leaders in the wake of the Christchurch slaughter.

Why nauseating? Because these sentiments are disingenuous. Let’s think for a minute on the things our leaders here in Australia and in the US have said about Muslims.

How they have used Islamophobic sentiments to win votes, gain and maintain their own power.

Among dozens of repeated slurs against Muslims, US president Donald Trump has suggested America is “at war” with people of this faith, that mosques should be closed and that we need more surveillance, including a “watch list”.

“I don’t notice Swedish people knocking down the World Trade Center. There is a Muslim problem in the world, and you know it and I know it,” he said in 2011 (and has said similar things since).

The same year Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was in opposition and urged his party to focus on the electorate’s growing concerns about “Muslim immigration”. He also opined Muslims in Australia had an “inability” to integrate (although it’s worth mentioning Morrison has today denounced Senator Fraser Anning’s comments that immigration was the “real cause” of the shooting, saying it was “disgusting” to “conflate this horrendous attack with issues on immigration and Islamic faith”.)

In 2016, then-Immigration Minister (now Home Affairs Minister) Peter Dutton said the former Fraser Government made a mistake letting Lebanese Muslims into Australia.

Now let’s connect this rhetoric to some other dots relating directly to the devastating Christchurch slaughter.

media_cameraLocals lay flowers and condolences at the Huda Mosque in tribute to those killed and injured at the Al Huda Mosque on March 16, 2019 in Dunedin. Picture: Dianne Manson/Getty Images

We know from years of research, that dehumanisation of specific groups is linked directly to real-life violence being perpetrated against those marginalised people. Writing on The Conversation, psychology researcher Allison Skinner states: “At its most extreme, dehumanising messages and propaganda can facilitate support for war and genocide.”

Skinner also says dehumanising language has “ … long been used to justify violence and destruction of minorities. We famously saw it in the Holocaust, when Nazi propaganda referred to Jewish people as vermin, and we saw it during the Rwandan genocide, when the Tutsi people were referred to as cockroaches.”

And this is why many Muslims around the world saw the Christchurch killings coming. In a moving editorial on The Project last night, presenter Waleed Aly, a Muslim himself, said he was “gutted and scared” and “overcome by hopelessness” … but not shocked. How could he be?

Other prominent Muslims — including ABC Life’s Osman Faruqui — expressed similar sentiments:

“I feel so sad. We begged you to stop amplifying and normalising hatred and racism. But you told us we were ‘politically correct’ and ‘freedom of speech’ was more important. The more you gave the far-right a platform, the more powerful they got. We begged you.”

I’ve just written and published an entire book about what I label ‘predator trolling’ — where the internet is used to do real-life harm to people. My book, Troll Hunting, links predator trolling to all kinds of real-life crimes — murder, incitement to suicide and stalking. And yes, acts of slaughter just like the Christchurch shooting.

As outlined in a just-published article in The Atlantic, the Christchurch killer was indeed a predator troll. He hung out in the exact communities I’ve painstakingly studied — cesspits of the internet of which ‘8Chan’ is just one.

What does this have to do with our leaders?

On February 6, 2018, at a Safer Internet Day event at Parliament House, Canberra, the then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gave a brief speech, declaring “the coarser and more abusive discourse that you far too often see online” was responsible for discourse in offline society getting more abusive.

I nearly laughed — he blamed the internet for human behaviour. And I wanted to say to him: Have you looked at your own behaviour in parliament lately? Have you thought deeply about the way yourself and other politicians interact and exactly what you’re modelling for young men?

I’ve spent five years talking to committed trolls and forming deep relationships with them. Most of them are young, white men. The truth is, they frequently take cues from our politicians and are emboldened by the lies and animosity peddled by them.

Case-in-point. Alt-right trolls view Donald Trump’s attacks on the media as proof he’s an “anti-politician” and view his attacks of groups like Muslims as anti-political correctness.

media_cameraAustralian PM Scott Morrison has a history of controversial comments about Muslim immigration. Picture: Adam Yip

So here’s the kicker. If our politicians — just like Queensland Senator Fraser Anning — are spouting hatred about Muslims or other groups in our communities, this dehumanisation can (and does) lead to real-life harm. It’s not just free speech. Young men just like the Christchurch killer take these cues from our leaders.

Now let’s get to the social media platforms, who somehow always manage to be missing in action when grave harm is done via their services. The Christchurch killer livestreamed the murder of 49 people on Facebook “and the video was quickly shared across YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram”.

In a tweet released after the killing, YouTube stated: “Our hearts are broken over today’s terrible tragedy in New Zealand. Please know we are working vigilantly to remove any violent footage.”

Clearly, their hearts are not broken enough. I sat in the Australian Senate hearings into cyberbullying in 2018 I watched representatives from Facebook, Google, YouTube, Instagram, Microsoft, Oath and Twitter obfuscate over and over again in the face of very clear questions from the Senators. They refused to supply data or any real answers on precisely how their platforms deal with cyberhate.

In plain English: The people who run these powerful global companies — who rake in billions of dollars from our data and pay almost no tax — refused to answer questions from the elected leaders who run this country.

Given how often cyberhate on these platforms is linked to people getting killed and harmed, is this really a status quo we’re happy to maintain?

media_cameraBrenton Tarrant has been charged in relation to the Christchurch mosque massacre. Picture: Mark Mitchell/AAP

The platforms have been wringing their hands and SAYING they are fixing cyberhate for years. They have the best engineers in the world working for them and ample financial resources. They don’t want fix the problem, or they would.

It’s high time our leaders took responsibility for their part in this.

Firstly, don’t use thinly veiled white supremacist ideology to marginalise and demonise particular groups.

Secondly, legislate to make social media platforms have a duty of care to the public because they clearly won’t fix it by themselves.

Thirdly, train and resource police to understand and investigate cyberhate.

And if our politicians fail to act? The Christchurch slaughter will be the first of many to come and our leaders won’t be able to get the bloods off their hands.

Ginger Gorman is cyberhate expert and journalist. Her best-selling book Troll Hunting, is available in stores nationally. Continue the conversation @GingerGorman

Originally published as Who’s really to blame for massacre

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