Islamic Women laud Coroner’s decision on accountability

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Terrorist Attack, March 15, 2019, Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand

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Hamilton, May 13, 2022

A decision by the Coroner to investigate the role of digital platforms in the Christchurch terror attack has been called a “landmark moment” for the accountability of social media platforms by Aliya Danzeisen, National Coordinator of the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand.

In an earlier decision, the Coroner’s Court had ruled that the role of social media was out of the scope of the coronial inquiry.

Scope for inquiry

The Coroner has revisited that conclusion in a decision released to the public today on the “scope of issues” for the coronial inquiry. The decision on the scope was released to the parties on April 28, 2022, under embargo until May 5, 2022.

Coroner Windley has decided that it is within scope to consider whether the terrorist’s online activity played a “material role in his radicalisation”, and if that material role can be established, Coroner Windley will consider “the extent of monitoring of users for extremist content by the relevant platform(s), then and now”.

The Coroner has said at [231] she is “unable to exclude the possibility that [the terrorist]’s online activity during [2014-2017] played a demonstrable and material role in his radicalisation, and ultimately the attack.” The Coroner has said at [239] that “it appears [the terrorist’s] extremist beliefs became particularly intense … between 2014 and 2017, and as such there may be more information about the ‘online component’ of his radicalisation that has not yet been examined.”

Social media responsibility

The Coroner has added that she has powers to compel the provision of information, which may be useful for this part of the inquiry.

“This is a landmark moment for the accountability of digital platforms. The Coroner has opened the door to investigating the responsibility of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, other sites like YouTube, and gaming messaging forums,” Ms Danzeisen said.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that digital platforms need to do more to prevent the circulation of dehumanising content, and this decision should be a wake-up call to those platforms,” she said.

The decision also addressed the relevance of emergency response efforts and whether the terrorist had any direct assistance from other people on the day of the attacks, among other things. The inquiry now moves to the next stage of considering submissions on the relevance of these issues to the cause and circumstances of death for each of the 51 people killed on 15 March 2019.

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