New Zealand Terror Attack Raises Questions About Online Free Speech

Photo Credit: Mark Baker/AP/Shutterstock
March 15, 2019
Updated 11h ago

By Spencer Feingold

After dozens of people were killed in a major terrorist attack at two mosques in New Zealand, a former counterterrorism official told Cheddar that society needs to have an honest conversation about the limits of free speech online.

“We are seeing a disturbing trend of lone wolf people being radicalized on the internet, on social platforms, regardless of their ideologies,” said Jarrod Bernstein, who served as a counterterrorism and community outreach official under President Obama.

At least 49 worshipers were killed at the Christchurch mosques by a white supremacist terrorist. Scores more were injured in the attack, which was livestreamed on Facebook from the gunman’s helmet camera in a horrifying 17-minute video.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Friday was one of the country’s “darkest days.”

Before the attack, the gunman posted a manifesto detailing his white nationalist views on Twitter and 8chan, an online platform well known for right-wing extremist content and discussions. The manifesto was laden with racist jargon commonly used in far-right parlance.

Bernstein warned that extremist individuals are “finding like minded people” and becoming "more prone to action.”

“We need a real conversation about what freedom of speech means in this era of radicalization and mass fatalities events,” he added.

Ardern said at a press conference on Saturday local time in Wellington that three people have been arrested. One Australian citizen has been charged with murder and will appear in court over the weekend. A fourth person was detained on Friday but has since been released.

None of the three suspects were on a watch list or had a criminal history, Ardern added.

“As a society, we really need to figure out what the internet equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded movie theater, and I don't think we know yet,” Bernstein said. “We have to find where that tipping point is.”

While Bernstein said hate speech must be policed, he added that there is no easy answer, saying “it is un-American at its core to police people for what they do or say on any forum.”

For full interview click here.