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Suspected Gunman In Mosque Attacks Appears To Have Been Inspired By U.S. Extremists


I want to bring in another voice here. It is Ben Collins, who reports on online extremism for NBC News.

Hi there, Ben.

BEN COLLINS: Hey. How you doing?

GREENE: I'm doing all right. I mean, this is quite a tragic story to cover.


GREENE: Just listening there to the voice of a journalist in New Zealand - I mean, it is sounding like this attacker used social media to post an apparent lengthy manifesto to post videos. I mean, is there anything that can be done to prevent social media being, I mean, weaponized, really, like this?

COLLINS: I think, actually, the more important thing is the lead-up to these things...


COLLINS: ...The lead-up to these events where, you know, these recommendation algorithms can make people - can radicalize people. They can make them more extreme by taking them from somebody who's a, in a lot of cases, like a garden-variety racist and make - like, and making them into extremists. And that's really...

GREENE: Did you say recommendation algorithms? What exactly is that?

COLLINS: Yeah. Oh, sure. So say on YouTube - you know, you're looking at a YouTube video. And there's this thing on the right sidebar.


COLLINS: It auto plays afterwards, right? It just gives you another video after the fact just to keep things moving, right? A lot of extremism groups have gamed this system as a way to try to get their outreach through YouTube and Facebook as well. And what they'll do is they'll take these ideas that will slowly sort of seep into your idea that maybe you should be more militant. Maybe it's not acceptable that, you know, that immigration is at highs in your country or something like that. And then they...

GREENE: Oh, I see. You're saying this...

COLLINS: ...Say eventually to act on it. Yeah.

GREENE: This guy could have - I mean, obviously, we don't know a lot at this point. But someone like this could be radicalized in that way if they were active on sites like that.

COLLINS: Oh, absolutely. And there's - we've seen this over and over again. We've seen this with the synagogue shooter in the United States as well where he's in these spaces. This guy was on 8chan. That's where he posted his manifesto and his link - and the link to the livestream as well. That's how people sort of found it as they were watching in real time. 8chan is a message board that's effectively, like, an extremist message board. It's extremely anti-immigrant, extremely racist and completely anonymous unless you out yourself, like this guy did.

Once you're all the way down that path, it's really hard to turn back. And that's the other thing is that these companies really don't take the steps in time to get people who are, you know, not that dangerous to stop them from getting all this content in their system and, you know, drumming up fears within themselves and then eventually carrying out a racist terror attack.

GREENE: Is there a way to stop this cycle, as you're describing it? I mean, are officials trying to? Have there been success stories...

COLLINS: Oh, absolutely.

GREENE: ...About controlling this?

COLLINS: The big success story is ISIS. I mean, when was the last time you saw an ISIS video on the right-hand sidebar of YouTube?


COLLINS: The answer is you haven't. And it's because they - law enforcement worked with these companies years ago to snuff this stuff out, to make it so people were not radicalized who may be vulnerable in these countries, right? That's possible. That is the thing that we know is possible because it's happened before. But the problem is it's politically fraught. It's - you know, they say it's an immigration issue and things like that. And in this case, it really isn't. It's - you can stop this content from being pushed to people. But they have not taken the initiative to do it yet.

GREENE: Ben Collins is a reporter for NBC News who covers online extremism. Thanks a lot.

COLLINS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.