The gaming platform Steam has cracked down on over 100 profiles memorializing the suspected shooter behind today’s tragic mosque shooting in New Zealand, which claimed the lives of 49 people.
Until shortly before this article’s publication, dozens of users of the PC gaming service were blatantly offering tribute to the alleged writer behind a white supremacist manifesto that takes responsibility for the New Zealand shooting. These profiles tended to appropriate the suspected killer’s name and image, the most common of which appears to be a screenshot from a Facebook livestream of the shooting. One profile displays a GIF of the attack while others offer praise for his actions or refer to him as “Kebab Remover” or a “saint” or “hero.”
Early this morning, 66 profiles claimed the alleged shooter’s name, and in just three hours, that number inflated to over 100. Hours after Kotaku reached out to Steam for comment, however, the alleged shooter’s name disappeared from those profiles’ main pages, but still remains under a list of previous aliases. Still, new ones are appearing.
As of this article’s publication, there are just two users claiming or emulating the name of the suspected killer on both Facebook and Twitter.
In addition to nearly 100 pages that referred to or venerated the suspected New Zealand shooter, hundreds of pages continue to nod toward past mass shooters including perpetrators of massacres in Charleston, Isla Vista and Parkland and of the 2011 mass killing in Norway. These profiles also appropriate these terrorists’ names and images, sometimes their mugshots or press images from their trial. Many have been live for months or years. 45 profiles referencing the Charleston shooter’s name remain live, including four created near the date of the 2015 attack.
“It’s very hard to speculate about why people do things on the internet. Internet culture tends to be steeped in irony and satire,” said Alice Marwick, an assistant professor of communications at UNC Chapel Hill, where she studies extremist content on social media. “With that being said, a lot of the time this kind of irony and satire does cloak genuine hatred. . . I think when people take on the mantle of these people, yes, they could be ironic or edgelords, but even if you’re not emulating their actions, you’re emulating their belief system.”
For years, hate groups fostering Nazis and white supremacists have thrived on Steam, VICE Motherboard reported in 2017. Just one year later, The Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that Steam acted as home for 173 groups “that blatantly venerate past school shooters,” including some described as “A group for all my fellow shooters” and “School Shooters are Heroes.”
Valve, the company behind Steam, has traditionally taken a hands-off approach toward moderating the content of games, groups and users’ pages that their platform hosts, which is what makes today’s moderation effort noteworthy. Yet Kotaku reported late 2018 that Steam was quietly removing some of the hate groups hosted on it. “Various parts of the Steam Community are moderated by a combination of official Valve staff, community moderators, and representatives of the game developers and publishers,” Steam’s moderation document reads. As of earlier this year, Steam hosted 90 million monthly users—a behemoth moderation task.
Public veneration for mass shooters contributes to the misguided and deeply demented “hero” narrative that helps spawn them, be it ironic or sincere.
Additional reporting contributed by Dhruv Mehrotra.