Before, After, and During, Censorship at the Center of Christchurch Attack

Social media derails debate with massive purge

As the world struggles to come to terms with last week’s terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, heavy-handed censorship has made it a struggle to figure out what happened, and why, above and beyond the official narrative.

News that shooting was ongoing in two mosques in New Zealand was met with a flurry of curiosity on social media, and just as quickly saw much of that shut down, with wholesale censorship of the topic and any specifics or videos related to it blocked out of hand.

Facebook was almost bragging when they revealed that they’d removed or blocked 1.5 million videos related to the rampage in just the first 24 hours. 80% of the videos, indeed, were blocked at the point of upload, never to be seen by anyone.

Underpinning this was likely an anticipation from social media outlets like Facebook that an ideologically driven attack on mosques would have at least tangential links to social media, and lead to mainstream outlets blaming them for not being even more heavy-handed in censoring objectionable views before the attacks happened.

Their solution, then, was to excessively censor the attack itself, and the aftermath. A substantial manifesto from the main gunmen, and other clearly relevant content on what the attackers were doing, are all but impossible to find on social media, and more traditional media outlets are doing a rather thin attempt at picking up the slack, mostly just echoing what officials say.

While other attacks of historical import took place in different eras with different context, this is one of the first such attacks that has come in the middle of the censorship-happy social media era. Plausibly violent ideologies have mostly been chased off of the main social media outlets, undercutting chances to confront such ideologies directly before the attack. During the attack, social media imposed what was almost a total media blackout, and in the aftermath, tried to vindicate their past censorship by keeping a careful lid on anything too revealing.

This must raise questions about how the modern system is going to be able to handle and process such attacks, and how well the world would’ve been able to manage, say, 9/11 or the Kennedy assassination, if  all video footage of it was just censored at once.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.