New York (CNN) A wrongful death lawsuit filed Friday against several social media companies alleges that social media contributed to the radicalization of an armed gunman who shot and killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York last May.
The lawsuit alleges that then-18-year-old Payton Gendron “was not raised in a racist family” and “had no personal history of negative interactions with black people.” Gendron was motivated to launch an attack on Top Friendly Market “by racist, anti-Semitic and white supremacist propaganda recommended to him and fed by the social media companies whose products he used,” according to the lawsuit.
John Elmore is among the attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the families of three mass shooting victims – Heyward Patterson, Katherine “Kat” Massey and Andre Mackniel, and assistant store manager Latisha Rogers, who survived the shooting. Elmore told CNN that this is a “lurking danger.”
The lawsuit alleges that social media companies will “benefit from racist, anti-Semitic and violent material displayed on their platforms to maximize user engagement”, including the time Gendron spends on their platforms viewing this material.
“Payton Gendron has confessed to these murders and is no longer a threat to society,” Elmore said in a statement from the Social Media Victims Law Center. “However, the social media platforms that radicalized him and the companies that armed him still need to be held accountable for their actions. Our goal, on behalf of our clients, is to make this community and our nation safer and prevent other mass shootings from happening.”
Plaintiffs are asking social media platforms to change the way they recommend content and warn when content poses a “clear and present threat of radicalization and violence against society”.
Plaintiffs seek monetary relief from all defendants, to be determined at trial.
The filing comes two days before the annual mark of a deadly grocery store shooting that occurred in a predominantly African-American neighborhood.
Speaking to CNN, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown praised some families of victims and survivors for fighting extremism on social media platforms.
“Their actions in fighting for positive change in gun reform, fighting against white supremacy, fighting for social media supremacy so tech companies can’t spread hate speech through social media – the families have been very brave,” CNN’s Victor Blackwell said on the show. CNN This Morning.
Filed in Erie County Superior Court, the lawsuit names multiple social media platforms or their parent company, collectively referred to as “social media defendants,” including Meta (Facebook), Snap, YouTube, Discord, Alphabet, 4chan, and Amazon. The lawsuit also identifies Gendron’s parents, Paul and Pamela Gendron; the gun shop where Gendron bought the firearms he used in the shootout, the gun manufacturer and body armor supplier as defendants.
CNN contacted the social media companies and other defendants named in the lawsuit for comment.
In a statement to CNN, Snapchat, which is owned by Snap, said: “We have a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech and discrimination of any kind. We intentionally designed Snapchat differently than traditional social media platforms and do not allow unverified content to become popular or algorithmically promoted. Instead, we screen all content before it reaches a large audience, which helps protect against discovery of potentially harmful or dangerous content.”
Google, the owner of YouTube, made a statement to CNN in response to the lawsuit.
“We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims and families of the horrific attack at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo last year. Over the years, YouTube has invested in technology, teams, and policies to identify and remove extremist content. We regularly work with law enforcement agencies, other platforms and civil society to share information and best practices,” YouTube spokesperson José Castañeda wrote.
Discord issued a statement after the shooting denouncing white supremacy, as did Twitch, saying that it “has a zero-tolerance policy against violence of any kind and we use several mechanisms to detect, escalate and remove violence on Twitch.”
Meta labeled the event a “terrorist attack” and began removing copies of videos and documents relating to the shooting and links to them on other sites, a company spokesperson he told CNN days after the shooting.
Motivated by financial benefits, lawsuits
The social media platforms named in the lawsuit were motivated by the financial benefits of using algorithms to maximize Gendron’s involvement with their respective platforms “by introducing him to extreme and inherently harmful content” and then “pushing him to increasingly extreme content over time” . the lawsuit alleges.
“Gendron has explicitly acknowledged that the racist, anti-Semitic and violent material he encountered on social media radicalized him, motivated him to commit racial violence, and provided the training, equipment and expertise to plan and carry out the May 14, 2022 massacre ., “according to the complaint.
Gendron was able to live stream discussing his plans for the massacre for more than 20 minutes and stream the shooting for another two minutes on the Amazon-owned Twitch social media platform before Twitch shut down the channel, the lawsuit claims.
While the livestream was initially viewed by around two dozen Twitch users, the video was eventually posted to other social media platforms, starting with 4chan, then posted to Reddit and then Facebook, where the video of the shooting was shown “alongside ads,” the lawsuit alleges .
The lawsuit alleges that social media platforms “Meta, Alphabet, Reddit, and 4chan made ad revenue from hosting and amplifying” Gendron’s video on their platforms.
The live broadcast was watched by more than 3 million people, and “within one year of the Tops Massacre, more killers live-streamed mass shootings as Gendron did,” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit alleges that “Amazon knew or should have known that future mass shooters would live stream their rampages on Twitch, and that live streaming of such crimes on Twitch would inspire future shootings.”
The shooter’s parents named as defendants in the trial
Gendron’s parents, named as defendants in the lawsuit, “failed to respond to clear warning signs that their son was planning to commit an act of gun violence,” the lawsuit says. “The actions and omissions of Paul and Pamela Gendron were inevitably intertwined with those of their son.”
Gendron’s parents were not charged in connection with the mass shooting and condemned their son’s actions, saying that “by pleading guilty, he will be held accountable for his actions.” CNN contacted the lawyer who represented Gendron to contact his parents for comment on the lawsuit.
Retailers of firearms and body armor also sued
Vintage Firearms was named as a defendant in the lawsuit because an upstate New York gun shop sold the Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle that Gendron used in the mass shootings. The lawsuit alleges that Gendron visited the store, finding “camaraderie” there, telling gun shop staff about the modifications he made to his rifle after watching instructional videos on how to do so on social media platforms.
“New York Common Law requires that gun dealers, such as Vintage Firearms, take appropriate action with red flags indicating that a buyer may be using a firearm unsafely or illegally,” according to the lawsuit.
The owner of Vintage Firearms told CNN’s WABC partner last year that he had never had a problem selling guns in the nearly 30 years his business had been open, and said he couldn’t believe what had happened.
“No one imagines a young man doing such a thing.” – Robert Donald said WABC.
Mean Arms sold Gendron an “easily removable firearms lock” designed to be able to modify an AR-15 rifle it purchased from Vintage Firearms, the lawsuit claims.
“If Mean Arms had not falsely advertised its product as being capable of making AR firearms compliant with New York State law, Vintage Firearms would not have been able to sell Gendron a Bushmaster XM15-E2S with an easy-to-remove slide so that he could use a removable bolt. magazines to fire about 60 shots in about two minutes,” according to the lawsuit.
CNN contacted Vintage Firearms, Mean Arms and RMA Armament for comment.
On Thursday, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed the lawsuit a lawsuit v. Mean Arms, claiming that the arms manufacturer assisted in the “illegal possession of assault weapons in New York City, including the weapons used in the May 2022 Buffalo mass shooting.” statement from the A.G. office.
“We lost 10 innocent lives because a hate-fueled individual was able to make an AR-15 even more deadly with a simple change at home,” James said in a statement. “Mean Arms sells the MA Lock device knowing it can be easily removed to make the gun more dangerous, and even gives directions on how to do it.”
AND Product description of the device, MA Lock says it’s “developed for states with obtrusive regulations requiring a permanent magazine” and installing the product “makes AR firearms legal and compliant while leaving all your favorite tactical features in place.”
CNN contacted Mean Arms for comment on both lawsuits.
In October, New York Attorney General James and Governor Kathy Hochul released report detailing the role social media platforms played in the Buffalo mass shooting.
“The report states that fringe online platforms like 4chan have radicalized the shooter; live streaming platforms such as Twitch have been rigged to publicize and encourage violent attacks by copycats; and the lack of oversight, transparency and accountability of these platforms has allowed hateful and extremist views to spread online, leading to radicalization and violence,” according to a statement from the attorney general’s office.
Ramishah Maruf and Celina Tebor of CNN contributed to this report.