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Tech giants Alphabet, Google and its subsidiary YouTube, together with Reddit, find themselves embroiled in legal action linked to a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York in 2022. The litigation alleges that the platforms fostered an environment promoting “extreme and harmful” content, which supposedly played a significant role in preparing the shooter for his racist attack that left ten individuals of color dead.
Regular readers will already be following how a mass shooting is being used to pressure social media platforms to censor and will have already anticipated this type of lawsuit. We covered this in important detail within the last month.
The shooting, committed by Payton Gendron who was 18 at the time, happened in a supermarket where the victims were shopping.
Litigation brought forward by Wayne Jones, son of victim Celestine Chaney, along with an additional lawsuit filed on behalf of the victims’ families and employees from the day of the attack, collectively stress that Gendron’s journey toward the racially driven theories may not have occurred but for his exposure to them on the aforementioned social media platforms.
Often these platforms are targeted for their controversial algorithms, which critics decry for promoting extreme and divisive content due to its ability to spur user engagement. The lawsuit cites Gendron’s near-constant use of these platforms, arguing that they fed him an unlimited supply of harmful, radicalizing content that shaped his extreme beliefs.
The lawsuits also include two lesser-known businesses as defendants: gun shop RMA Armament, where Gendron allegedly bought body-armory, and Vintage Firearms, supposedly the source of his AR-15 gun. These businesses are implicated due to involvement in Reddit threads and YouTube tutorials that enabled Gendron to learn to operate his tactical gear and firearm. Also named are the shooter’s parents, Paul and Pamela Gendron, due to perceived negligence in controlling their son’s resource accumulation and internet usage.
The legal team behind the lawsuits, Everytown Law, insists that social media companies played a key role in fueling Gendron’s racist ideologies and provided him with the necessary tools to carry out the massacre.
After pleading guilty to charges of murder and domestic terrorism, Gendron, now 19, is serving life imprisonment and may also receive the federal death sentence subject to pending hate crime charges.
Both lawsuits demand economic and non-economic damages for the trauma-induced physiological effects, acute fear, and severe distress experienced by the victims. Ultimately, disparities surrounding free speech and tech censorship are at the heart of this case.
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