Following a mass shooting at a Christchurch mosque on Friday 15 March, three New Zealand ISPs have blocked access to the websites 8chan, 4chan and LiveLeak.
8chan is a messaging board where the shooter was suspected to have developed and published his manifesto prior to the attack. As he livestreamed the attack via Facebook, links to the post were spread via 8chan and 4chan, while users uploaded the footage to video sharing site LiveLeak moments after the stream’s end.
Unlike many, more heavily-regulated, websites, 4chan, 8chan and LiveLeak regularly refuse to remove footage of a sensitive nature, no matter how graphic or tasteless.
Spark NZ, Vodafone NZ and Vocus NZ are the providers currently blocking the sites to New Zealand customers – those who attempt to view them are simply met with the message: “The URL has been blocked for security reasons”.
The ban has been confirmed to be temporary, though, with representatives from Spark NZ and Vodafone NZ stating that once the footage of the shooting is taken offline access to the sites will be restored.
Speaking to BleepingComputer, Meera Kaushik, External Communications Advisor at Vodafone NZ, said: “Where material is identified the site is temporarily blocked and the site is notified, requesting they remove the material,
“A number of sites are blocked and then unblocked in this way. We apologize to legitimate internet users who may have been inconvenienced by this, however under the extreme circumstances we believed it was the responsible thing for the industry to do.”
Simon Moutter, Managing Director of Spark NZ, said that his company was taking the same approach.
Footage of this nature is nothing new to the three aforementioned sites. 4chan was once notorious for its hosting of gore, murder and illegal pornography, until a recent tightening of its own rules. 8chan was founded as an even more unregulated offshoot of the imageboard, with users deciding what content is and isn’t appropriate, rather than relying on a moderating team. LiveLeak serves as a near-totally unfiltered alternative to YouTube, renowned for its extensive library of user-uploaded footage featuring real, uncensored incidents caught on camera.
Despite their commitment to hosting extreme content, 4chan and 8chan also offer thousands of forums (known on-site as ‘boards’) dedicated to harmless niches, hobbies and interests. TV, music and Japanese animation boards are just a few of the forums which attract millions of visitors every day.
LiveLeak is much the same. While it may be best known for hosting videos that would be instantly flagged by YouTube’s moderators, it’s also a popular source for interesting and unusual footage, as well as news broadcasts from around the world that would otherwise go unviewed outside of their home nation.
Internet blanket bans have rarely proven successful under more oppressive digital regimes, with committed users looking to access inoffensive-yet-censored content usually able to bypass the blocks through one means or another. VPNs, proxies and mirror sites are all commonplace and readily available.
On Sunday 17 March LiveLeak issued a statement via co-founder Hayden Hewitt’s channel saying that it will not host the mosque shooting video as it does not want to give the perpetrator “exactly what he wanted”.
“We’ve never had a ‘show everything’ policy and we’ll continue to review certain items on a case by case basis,” said Hewitt: “We fully understand some people will be very unhappy with this decision but, as with previous decisions, we will stand by it all the same.”