Social media sites, trolls face legal action over NZ terror video

A police officer stands guard outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand last week. Legal action against social media companies, Internet users and trolls is gathering pace over the online reaction to the video. (Reuters)
Updated 25 March 2019

Social media sites, trolls face legal action over NZ terror video

  • French group sues Facebook and YouTube for allowing live-stream of mosque attack
  • Few hours after attack, footage could still be found on Facebook as well as YouTube

LONDON: Legal action against social media companies, Internet users and trolls is gathering pace over the online reaction to this month’s New Zealand mosque massacre, in which 50 people were killed. 

Brenton Tarrant, who has been charged with murder after the terrorist attack on two Christchurch mosques and who live-streamed the attack on social media, is set to appear in court on April 5 where he will face a host of additional charges. Social media companies, people who shared Tarrant’s violent video, and those who posted offensive comments online have all faced legal challenges following the terror attack. 

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), one of the main groups representing Muslims in France, said on Monday it was suing Facebook and YouTube, Reuters reported.

The group accused the social-media giants of inciting violence by allowing the streaming of footage of the New Zealand massacre on their platforms.

It alleged that the companies had disseminated material that encouraged terrorism, and harmed the dignity of human beings. 

A YouTube spokesperson said that it has “removed tens of thousands of videos and terminated hundreds of accounts created to promote or glorify the shooter” since the attack. 

“Our teams are continuing to work around the clock to prevent violent and graphic content from spreading, we know there is much more work to do,” they added. 

A Facebook representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Arab News. The service said earlier that in the first 24 hours after the shooting, it blocked more than 1.2 million attempts to upload the video and removed a further 300,000 copies that had been uploaded.

But a few hours after the attack, footage could still be found on Facebook as well as YouTube, and both platforms have faced widespead criticism over the footage. 

Abdallah Zekri, president of the CFCM’s Islamophobia monitoring unit, said the organization had launched a formal legal complaint against Facebook and YouTube in France, Reuters reported on Monday. 

The council said it was suing the French branches of the two tech giants for “broadcasting a message with violent content abetting terrorism, or of a nature likely to seriously violate human dignity and liable to be seen by a minor,” according to a copy of the complaint seen by AFP.

Such acts can be punished by three years’ imprisonment and a €75,000 ($85,000) fine under French law, it was reported.

Other action has also been taken against online trolls who made offensive comments about the terror video — as well as those sharing it. 

In the UK, seven people were arrested for hate crimes in the Greater Manchester area over the mosque shootings, with one man having called the gunman a “hero,” the BBC reported. The local police service said it had received 11 reports of offensive behavior related to the attack, with nine of them online.

New Zealand’s legal right of freedom of expression comes with tighter restrictions than in many other countries, meaning people could face legal action for seeking out and watching the video.

As of March 21, at least two people in New Zealand had been charged with sharing the 17-minute video on social media platforms under a law forbidding “possession or dissemination of material depicting extreme violence and terrorism.” More people could be charged for publicizing the attack under a human rights law which bans “incitement of racial disharmony.”

Philip Neville Arps appeared in court in Christchurch on Mar. 20 on two charges related to reposting the video, while an unnamed Christchurch teenager was also denied bail after arrest for posting a photograph of one of the mosques where the attack took place a week beforehand, with a caption that read: “Target acquired.”

Both face a maximum of 14 years in prison if they are found guilty, according to The New York Times. 

Even those commenting on the attack who are suspected of inciting racial disharmony can be charged. A woman from northern New Zealand was arrested for Facebook comments she made after the attack and if charged and convicted could face a fine of NZ$7,000 ($4,800).

New Zealand’s chief censor, David Shanks, acknowledged that many people may have viewed the Christchurch mosque video by accident. He warned that, while those who spread the video risked arrest and criminal charges, even possessing the video unintentionally was a crime.

“Every New Zealander should now be clear that this clip is an illegal, harmful and reprehensible record created to promote a terrorist cause,” Shanks said last week. 

“If you have a record of it, you must delete it. If you see it, you should report it. Possessing or distributing it is illegal, and only supports a criminal agenda,” he added.

The social media platforms hosting the video could also now face legal issues in New Zealand, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern having said that her country, with possible assistance from others, will investigate the role social media played in the attack.

“We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published,” she told New Zealand’s Parliament last week. “They are the publisher, not just the postman.”

US broadcast agency to stop renewing visas for foreign journalists

Updated 12 July 2020

US broadcast agency to stop renewing visas for foreign journalists

  • According to VOA, approximately 76 foreign journalists are facing the possibility that their visas may not be renewed
  • The move also affects employees at other USAGM entities

DUBAI: The US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) might not renew visas for foreign journalists working at Voice of America (VOA).
The decision comes after Michael Pack joined USAGM as CEO last month, and fired the heads of four organizations: Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Open Technology Fund. 
According to VOA, approximately 76 foreign journalists working for the organization in Washington are facing the possibility that their visas, many of which expire this month, may not be renewed.
A VOA journalist, who asked not to be named, said it could lead to the departure of more than 100 staffers in the foreign language services, reported National Public Radio (NPR). 
The move also affects employees at other USAGM entities. Currently, there are 62 contractors and 14 full time employees at USAGM who are in the US on Exchange Visitor (J-1) visas. There are 15 categories under the J-1 visa, which is essentially a non-immigrant entry permit for individuals with skills who are approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs. It is worth noting that the J-1 is among the visas that were banned by the administration of President Donald Trump in response to the coronavirus disease pandemic, with the administration suggesting holders take jobs away from US citizens.
A USAGM spokesperson told VOA that the agency was conducting a case-by-case assessment of J-1 renewal applications, and so far none of the journalists seeking J-1 extensions appears to have been rejected outright. The spokesperson added said the visa review is aimed at improving agency management, protecting US national security and ensuring that hiring authorities are not misused.
Media organizations have spoken out against the news. “This reported decision puts the lives of intrepid, free-thinking foreign journalists at risk. Many of these journalists have worked with VOA precisely because it offers them the opportunity to report stories that they cannot tell in their home countries without risk of severe punishment,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. 
“If these journalists are forced to return home, some of them will be greeted with jail cells or worse. It is appalling that the VOA’s new boss could be so reckless about the safety of journalists who have given their talents and insights to help the US inform the global public. These journalists deserve protection, not betrayal,”
The National Press Club, which represents more than 3,000 reporters, editors and professional communicators worldwide, also spoke out. “We know of no sensible reason to deny VOA’s foreign journalists renewed visas. These men and women provide an essential service to VOA by reporting from the US and telling the American story to their audiences overseas. They have the language skills and cultural background to perform this work. They are not taking jobs away from American workers,” said its president, Michael Freedman.
At the time of publication USAGM had not responded to Arab News’ request for comment.