Terrorism needs an audience. Facebook gave Christchurch shooter more than he asked for

To be effective, terrorism must have an audience. The New Zealand attackers simply used a GoPro and live streaming on Facebook while they carried out the massacre. With social media and the mobile internet, terrorists can not only reach a global audience, they can get their message across unfiltered. These, unfortunately, are near-perfect conditions for terrorism.

When Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the terrorist who carried out the atrocity at two mosques in Christchurch last week, killing at least 50 people, streamed his act live on Facebook, he proved, yet again, that terrorism is theatre. Brian Jenkins, an early analyst of terrorism, argued in 1975 that in “the age of mass communications…terrorism is aimed at the people watching.”

While some terrorists make specific demands — like seeking the release of their fellows — the strategic purpose of the terrorists’ actions is to draw attention to their political cause, widen their gross public support and enlist new followers. Terrorism is, as a 19th century political activist described it, “propaganda of the deed.”

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