Court Battles

Families of Buffalo victims sue social media companies for giving shooter access to racist, violent views

The families of the victims in the Buffalo supermarket shooting from last May have sued more than half a dozen Big Tech companies alleging that they gave the shooter a platform to take in racist and violent views before committing the shooting. 

Diona Patterson, Barbara Mapps and Shawanda Rogers, whose loved ones were killed in the shooting, and survivor Latisha Rogers filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in Erie County on Friday against social media companies like Meta, Facebook’s parent company; Snap, Inc., which runs Snapchat; Discord; Amazon, which owns Twitch; and Reddit. 

The lawsuit also names Google, the dark web messaging site 4chan, the body armor company RMA Armament, the firearm company Vintage Firearms and the shooter’s parents. 

The lawsuit comes almost a year after Payton Gendron, a white teenager, opened fire at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, killing 10 Black people and injuring three others. Gendron pleaded guilty in November to charges of murder, murder as a hate crime and hate-motivated domestic terrorism, acknowledging that he targeted his victims because they were Black. 

He was sentenced to life in prison. 

The complaint alleges that Gendron was not raised in a racist family, did not live in a radically polarized community and did not have a history of negative interactions with Black people, but he was motivated to commit the hate crime because of his exposure to racist, antisemitic and white supremacist “propaganda” on social media platforms. 

It states that Gendron personally acknowledged that the material he saw on social media caused him to become radicalized, motivated him to commit racially motivated violence and helped him have the training and equipment to carry out the attack. 

“Gendron’s radicalization on social media was neither a coincidence nor an accident; it was the foreseeable consequence of the defendant social media companies’ conscious decision to design, program, and operate platforms and tools that maximize user engagement (and corresponding advertising revenue) at the expense of public safety,” the complaint states. 

The plaintiffs allege that the platforms use algorithms that are “designed to addict young users” who are more vulnerable to social media addiction and racist and antisemitic views and conspiracy theories online. 

They said Gendron used the social media platforms to plan the attack, choose the body armor and firearms he needed from RMA Armament and Vintage Firearms and train himself. They noted that Gendron also livestreamed the shooting on Twitch, which he said motivated him to carry it out. 

Twitch said in a post after the shooting that it took the livestream down in two minutes after it began and that it is “taking all possible action to stop the footage and related content from spreading on Twitch, including monitoring and removing accounts or content rebroadcasting footage of the incident.” 

“Until social media companies redesign their products to prioritize community safety over advertising revenue, teenagers like Gendron will continue to be radicalized on their platforms and the endless cycle of racist and antisemitic carnage pulverizing our society will continue unabated,” the complaint states.

Tags 4chan Amazon Buffalo Buffalo shooting Buffalo supermarket shooting Discord Google hate crime Lawsuit META New York New York Supreme Court Reddit RMA Armament Snap Inc. social media companies Vintage Firearms

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