THIS week, Craig Borland provides a local reaction to the attack on two mosques in Christchurch, which left 50 people dead and dozens wounded, and questions the role of social media in inspiring such atrocities.


ON page nine of this week’s Advertiser we report on a court case involving a Helensburgh man who broke the law when he tried to import two ‘Taser-style’ weapons into the country from Vietnam.

According to his lawyer at last Thursday’s hearing, Ross Malcolm wanted to use the items to mimic a YouTube video he’d seen, in which a man in a bar deliberately gave himself an electric shock with a similar weapon. The man in the video apparently did this for the amusement of others watching, both in the bar and on the internet afterwards.

Then, less than 24 hours after that court case called, came news from New Zealand of the horrific mosque attacks in Christchurch – and with it the revelation that the terrorist broadcast them live to the world via Facebook.

Facebook has since said that the video got fewer than 200 live views, and about 4,000 views in total before it was removed. But Facebook also says it removed 1.5 million copies of the video in the first 24 hours after the incident. And that’s without taking into consideration other websites and social media networks, like Twitter, Reddit and YouTube itself.

It’s logical to surmise that the Christchurch attacker was driven by a toxic combination of hatred and the desire for infamy. All of us have been inspired, for good or ill, by the things we’ve seen others do at some point in our lives, but most of us have enough common sense to know when acting on that inspiration is a good thing, and when it isn’t.

I do not suggest in any way that trying to import illegal Tasers from Vietnam is in any way comparable to what happened in Christchurch. And I don’t know whether Helensburgh’s would-be Taser importer had plans to record himself doing something similar to that man in the bar, and to share the resulting footage on social media.

But I do know there are an awful lot of people who see social media as the potential gateway to their 15 minutes of fame – though I think that world-view says more about the people who make these videos (and who watch them) than about the social media platforms themselves.

Some insist the blame for acts of terror lies with social media – without which, it is said, such hatred could not be amplified, and used to inspire others, to anything like the same extent.

But human beings have always been capable of horrible, hateful things, and pinning the blame on social media is, to some extent, a convenient way to pretend that the worst aspects of human nature don’t exist, rather than doing the hard work of attempting to change them for the better.

The idea that anyone might be inspired by the Christchurch atrocities to do something similar is one I just can’t get my head around.

But simply sitting back and saying it’s all the fault of the evil social media is to hide away from the uncomfortable truth that hatred is all around us, and that we’re all responsible for tackling it.