Police officer in front of the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, NZ
The terror attack on two mosques in 2019 left an indelible mark on the country. Image by AP PHOTO

Christchurch ‘false flag’ claim is beaten by the clock

David Williams July 11, 2024
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

The timestamp of a Jacinda Ardern  X post proves she knew about the Christchurch massacre before it happened.

OUR VERDICT

False. The claim is based on a misunderstanding of how X's (formerly Twitter) timestamps work.

AAP FACTCHECK – A social media post by the then New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern is being used to claim she knew about the 2019 Christchurch terror attack ahead of the incident.

The claim is false and is based on a misunderstanding of how X (formerly Twitter) timestamps work.

Facebook post showing a Telegram post claiming Jacinda Ardern's tweet
 Facebook users have been sharing a Telegram message that features the screenshot 

A Facebook post shares a screenshot of a Telegram message that includes Ms Ardern’s X post from March 15, 2019, about the attack.

The Facebook post says: “Anybody with half a brain should realise by now that this ‘event’ never happened.”

Ms Ardern’s X post in the screenshot reads: “What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities – New Zealand is their home – they are us.”

It’s timestamped 11.33am 15/3/19, but the terror attack didn’t begin until 1.40pm NZ standard time, after the gunman began live-streaming on Facebook from 1.33pm.

Ms Ardern was in New Plymouth, in NZ’s North Island, at the time – so her posts were sent from the same time zone as the attack.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holding a press conference
 Former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern at a press conference after the shootings in 2019.  

The reason the timestamp on the post is earlier than the event itself is simple, digital media expert Alex Bruns, of Queensland University of Technology’s Digital Media Research Centre, told AAP FactCheck.

“Timestamps on Twitter will show time relative to the reader’s time zone, not the poster’s,” Prof Bruns says.

“This would be easy to verify by looking at this or any other tweet from different locations around the world (physically or via VPN), or by looking at the underlying HTML of the tweet’s web page, which should encode the time in standard Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

“Seeing as I’m in New Zealand, from here the post shows up as posted at 16:33.”

The Telegram message shared in the post uses the time discrepancy to suggest the event was a “false flag” – a term conspiracy theorists use to describe events they believe are orchestrated by governments to push a political agenda.

The caption reads: “The Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings commenced at 1.40 pm on that day, so why is her Tweet time stamped 11.33 am? You know why! This shooting was used to disarm the entire nation ahead of the COVID scam that was to occur less than a year later.”

Damiano Spina, a senior lecturer at RMIT’s School of Computing Technologies and a researcher in interactive information access and retrieval, talked AAP FactCheck through the process of unlocking the required information, starting with the original post in the screenshot.

Jacinda Ardern's tweet on the day of the Christchurch terror attack.
 You can see in this screenshot, taken in Brisbane, Ms Ardern’s post is timestamped 1:33pm. 

Every X post is “persisted”, he explains, which means it exists beyond when it was created and holds data about the moment it was created, using UTC for the date and time.

People with access to X’s developer platform X API can uncover this information by looking at the “created_at” field in the tweet object

Twitter developer page showing how to find date created.
 The all-important details of when a post was created can be found within X API. 

There are other options, too.

Dr Spina managed to find the UTC timestamp of Ms Ardern’s post using a tool called TweetedAt.

It confirms the post’s metadata, including the time it was posted: March 15, 2019 at 3.33am GMT (Greenwich Mean Time, which is equivalent to UTC).

TweetedAt metadata for Jacinda Ardern terror tweet
 Using the TweetedAt tool, you can see the precise time the tweet was originally posted. 

Dr Spina, who is based in Victoria, said the post was being displayed as created at 2.33 pm Melbourne time – therefore 4.33pm in NZ.

Therefore, he says, the screenshot [in the Telegram post] must have been taken from an X user in the GMT/UTC+8 timezone (Perth, Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong or Manila).

The Verdict

The claim that the timestamp of a Jacinda Ardern  X post proves she knew about the Christchurch massacre before it happened is false. 

Timestamps on Twitter show time relative to the reader’s time zone, not the poster’s.

Therefore, while Ms Ardern sent the post at 4.33pm in NZ, it was viewed and captured by someone in the GMT/UTC+8 timezone.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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