UK tabloids have been criticised for publishing footage of the Christchurch mosque terror atrocity, in which 49 people were murdered, on their websites.
Despite New Zealand police urging the public not to share the “extremely distressing” first-person footage taken by the gunman, who livestreamed his attack on Facebook, The Mail, The Sun and The Mirror all ran excerpts online.
Brands including London North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Coral unwittingly found their advertising served in close proximity to the grim content on The Mail and The Sun websites, where their homepage takeovers appeared as the backdrops to the videos. The Mirror claimed it ran no ads with the content. Since this morning, all three publishers have removed the videos.
Restaurant booking service Open Table said it has tasked its marketing team with “making sure these sites are blacklisted from any OpenTable campaigns”.
Social giants YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Reddit were also playing catchup to delete footage and accounts related to the shooter. Popular gaming YouTuber PewDiePie had to condemn the attacker who urged viewers to subscribe to his channel, a reference to an internet meme.
New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern urged the media to show restraint: “We should not be perpetuating, sharing, [or] giving any oxygen to this act of violence.”
Social media activists Stop Funding Hate, on a mission to demonetise hateful content by pressuring advertisers, told the Drum: “It’s astonishing that any newspaper would think it appropriate to share this appalling video. But so long as publishing hateful and extremist content remains profitable, there will always be a risk that brands will find themselves aligned with this kind of material.
“Yet the advertising money that funds the internet could also be a part of the solution. If enough companies begin to apply an ethical check to their advertising, and proactively avoid placing ads with outlets that publish inflammatory clickbait, this could be the key to building a healthier media, and a safer brand environment.”
In the UK, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other providers have taken action to remove the video and other propaganda related to the attack. The government has been clear that all companies need to act more quickly to remove terrorist content.”
BuzzFeed reports that Mail Online hosted an edited version of the shooter’s video, showing him wielding a gun as he entered a mosque – the footage cut before fire was opened. It also hosted and enabled the download of the attacker’s 84-page hate speech manifesto as a PDF. These have since been removed from the site. At the time of publication, it was continuing to use a still image of the shooter entering the mosque, however.
Replacing the video at the top of its homepage is a story exploring “how a blonde little boy turned into a far-right mass killer… after his dad died of cancer…”
Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy was one of the first to condemn The Mail for running the video.
.@MailOnline please get that murder video off your website. It’s a new low in clickbait
– Krishnan Guru-Murthy (@krishgm) March 15, 2019
LNER was one of the brands captured running alongside the grim footage on the Mail Online. Suzanne Donnelly, commercial director at LNER, confirmed on Twitter that she had contacted the title and had the brand’s marketing removed from the story.
A LNER spokesperson told The Drum: “We have measures in place to minimise the risk of our adverts appearing around sensitive content. This morning, we took the additional measure of pausing all advertising on news sites. Our thoughts are with those affected by the tragic events in Christchurch.”
The Daily Mail told The Drum: “As with all incidents of terror, news organisations have to strike the right balance between showing the public what has happened – and why – and playing into the terrorists’ hands.
“In common with many other news organisations around the world MailOnline carried for a time a very short excerpt from the beginning of the Christchurch mosque gunman’s video that showed no violence or victims. On further reflection, we decided to remove it some hours ago.”
The Sun ran a gif of the attack on its homepage. The image most commonly shared on social media shows this juxtaposed with a website takeover from bookmaker Coral who The Drum has contacted for a statement.
The Sun told BuzzFeed that its footage didn’t “depict any actual violence”.
The rest of the statement read: “We recognise that in the aftermath of horrific events such as these there will be sensitivities around reporting, and we take those responsibilities seriously. We have thought long and hard about how much of the easily available material currently on social media we should host on our site in order to shed light on this barbarous attack and the twisted ‘motive’ behind it.”
It also referred to the fact it had not linked to the manifesto as others in the media had.
A spokesperson from The Sun later told The Drum: “Before 9am, all advertising was removed from content relating to the terror attack on The Sun website, in light of the unfolding tragedy. The Coral homepage takeover was removed shortly after.”
The Daily Mirror ran edited footage which showed several minutes of the attack. This included showing the attacker shooting at civilians in the street.
Group editor Lloyd Embley explained why it “briefly” ran the footage, tweeting: “For a brief period this morning the Mirror website ran some edited footage filmed by the gunman in Christchurch. We should not have carried this. It is not in line with our policy relating to terrorist propaganda videos.”
A source at The Mirror claimed that no ads had run next to the Christchurch content. It said its policy to lockdown ads on “unsafe” content had been successful.
Under this process, editors manually flag stories as unsafe in the CMS, such as content where there is “clearly visible signs of death or fatal injury… promotional material for criminal or terrorist organisations such as ISIS… footage or audio that could incite criminal or racist activity… footage of explicit sexual acts”. It claimed this process worked although a third-party ad plug-in did continue to operate.
In Australia, Sky News and Ten Daily were the first media outlets to air the footage, showing the gunman approach the mosque. Ten Daily’s embed was monetised with a pre-roll ad. Sky said it “in line with other broadcasters ran heavily edited footage that did not show the shootings or the victims”.
Political action group Hope Not Hate, which has been monitoring and guiding on the attack, told The Drum: “This footage must be treated with extraordinary levels of caution and sensitivity by the media. It’s grotesque that some outlets have shared the terrorist’s ‘manifesto’ or clips from his livestream of the killings. This needs to stop. Now.”
Labour deputy editor Tom Watson also criticised some media companies for how they reported the attack.
It’s deeply concerning and irresponsible that mainstream news sites are giving a platform to the hateful extremist violence that has devastated so many lives, particularly after the New Zealand authorities have asked for the footage not to be shared. https://t.co/HCjZr98CWW – Tom Watson (@tom_watson) March 15, 2019
The Drum has contacted numerous brands advertising with the tabloids to learn if they have any brand safety concerns. The piece will be updated as they respond.
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