Alleged Pittsburgh And Christchurch Shooters Had Similar Online Activity, Report Finds

Apr 10, 2019

A new report from the Anti-Defamation League shows similarities in the online activity of the men accused of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shooting. Both men frequently posted about "white genocide" on fringe websites, and announced their intentions to commit violence before their respective attacks.

The analysis found that extremist views flourish on websites that don't dissuade white nationalist communities, such as Gab and 8chan.

 

Joel Finkelstein, director of the Network Contagion Research Institute and fellow at the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, said the report shows the ideological hostility and indoctrination within white nationalist groups is more similar to foreign terror groups like ISIS than many may think.

“This is done in such a way that nobody needs to know anybody else’s name, or see anyone else’s face,” he said . “What follows from that is that far from being lone wolves, our data is suggesting that this is a kind of ISIS-like form of organization.”

 

Language used on Gab by the alleged Pittsburgh shooter signified belief in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, the report said. Using a machine-learning algorithm, reserachers analyzed 36 million comments on Gab from August 2016 to January 2018 and found several words and phrases closely associated with the term “white genocide.” These include “Hitler was right,” “migrant crisis” and anti-Semitic slurs.

On 8chan, a word association analysis found "an evolution of [the term white genocide] that is clearly more explicit, apocalyptic and hostile, relative to its milder equivalent on Gab," the report said. The words "Muslim" and "invasion" neighbor the word "white" more closely, and terms including "slaughter" and "exterminate" are more prevalent.

In his message before the mosque attack, the alleged Christchurch shooter identified his community on 8chan as compatriots in his worldview.

Finkelstein said the role of monitoring sites like Gab and 8chan for extremist content shouldn’t necessarily fall to the platforms themselves.

“I think we need to realize up front the limitations in the role they could possibly play in managing something like this,” he said. “If platforms have a role, it should be in participating in informing the law, because the standards need to be upheld universally.”

 

Last September, the Network of Contagion Research Institute released a study that analyzed more than 100 million comments and images posted between July 2016 and January 2018 on Gab and a 4chan site called "politically incorrect." The analysis found an increase in the prevalance of racial slurs after three events: the 2016 election, President Trump's inauguration and the white nationalist Charlottesville rally in August 2017. The report said these surges push these messages onto more mainstream sites such as Twitter.