The remaining founder, Hayden Hewitt, who made the decision not to host the Christchurch video, acknowledged that Liveleak’s audience leans right, and that a racist contingent has found a home on the site. “Yes, people who want to see these things will be drawn to it,” he said. “It’s as plain as the nose on your face.”
He described racism as “the epitome of stupidity,” but recited familiar complaints about the extremes of “both sides.” (“If you criticize the Israeli government, some people will claim you’re anti-Semitic because of that. And if you criticize radical Islam, you’re often accused of being Islamophobic,” he said.) He hosts an internet show called “Trigger Warning,” on which he laments the rise of political correctness. He told me he believes that conservative speech is being suppressed on larger internet platforms, and that as long as that’s true, its users will trend even further to the right.
On shock sites, extreme violence often pairs with extreme politics. Whether witnessing the worst breeds particular views or spaces catering to one taboo invite others is less obvious. But Dr. Tait remembers racism as central to the community on Ogrish, as well. “One of the most popular threads was a thread about white supremacy,” she remembered. “It was a lengthy debate that was really trying to give a scientific basis for racism.”
“A lot of people talked about the reason for watching beheading videos, for example, as really wanting to see what the enemy was capable of,” she said. “And it was very associated with the right, and with the hatred of Arabs.”
In a 2017 article for Participations, a media studies journal, the writer Mike Alvarez wrote of BestGore, another large shock site: “It is apparent from the data that BestGore users do not view all human lives as equal.” Comments, often presented as jokes, “betray a view of humanity in which the life of the ‘other’ is deemed less valuable, if not valueless,” he wrote. On many shock sites, videos portraying police interactions, including shootings that elsewhere have inspired activist movements and debates about racism in law enforcement, are viewed as a case of the victims getting what they deserve.
After it was branded an alternative to mainstream news, Liveleak became popular with American soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and accumulated a library of footage of violence unfolding in Middle East, often posted with minimal context. There is footage from drones; of the aftermath of firefights; of mangled bodies. There is a lot of footage of cartel violence, though, as common on such sites, attribution is sparse and often unreliable, and the dead are treated as interchangable sources of content. (The most popular post of all time on the site, according to Mr. Hewitt, was the cellphone video of the execution of Saddam Hussein.)