Don’t feed the trolls.
Over the weekend it became painfully clear that the mass murderer now biding his time in a Christchurch jail awaiting trial may have patterned his plan upon the activities of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass-murderer.
All doubt was removed when this story made its way onto the WaPo front page. You represent yourself when you want your trial to become a propaganda vehicle for your own worldview.
The question we need to ask now is how we can arrest this too-carefully planned repetition of a successful martyrdom?
This is not an easy question to answer, because this strategy — which, again, Breivik pioneered — exploits the openness of the justice system, using it as a megaphone to broadcast beliefs.
How can this murderer have a fair trial that simultaneously frustrates his single-minded goal? How can he have his day in court, without becoming a martyr?
This is not simply a question of restricting press coverage: in the era of social media, there is no boundary between the professional and amateur coverage of such events. The trial will be absolutely irresistible to anyone who shares those views — and to everyone who holds those views in contempt. That’s the problem here: the murderer has done something that we can not be ambivalent toward. It is so overwhelming we have no choice but to react to it.
And therein lies that trap; because we become slaves to our reaction, and that reaction leaves us open to other influences. It’s this that the murderer is counting on. This is the real goal of his act of martyrdom.
It’s going to be almost impossibly difficult to avoid that reaction. Consider Google in the minutes after the massacre:
Google makes it easy to find what we’re looking for — and the murderer knew that once there was a livestream available, the rest would take care of itself.
Once even a single copy of that livestream existed anywhere — in the cloud or on an individual’s computer — it would effectively be impossible to eradicate from the Internet:
We will never be rid of these images. How can we deprive them of their power? How can we make them less alluring? How can we frame them in such a way that it allows us to accept the provocation as part of the intent of the terrorist? That we are no less his targets?
There are no easy solutions here.
Eternal vigilance is the price of living in this world, where the worst will exploit our best and most natural reactions — to love and care for and protect one another — for their own aims.
What does that vigilance look like? What forms might it take? And how can we shut down this murdering propagandist before he takes his next steps to dominate the media consciousness of a world still reeling from his actions?
Is this a matter of national security? Quite possibly. But it begins with that oldest of adages: ‘Don’t feed the trolls.’ Even though this troll, monstrous, psychopathic, and single-minded, demands our attention (and never forget, attention is a form of respect) it is possible to refuse. And it is necessary.
So I’ll be asking myself — every day, and perhaps, over the next few days, every minute: Am I doing something that denies and frustrates this plan? Am I helping to break the chain of reaction and outrage that contributes toward his goals? If enough of us do that, he will fail.
It can not bring back the dead, but it may give them — and us — a measure of peace.
Mark Pesce is a futurist, inventor, speaker, writer, entrepreneur, and educator. This post first appeared on Medium.