Anti-Gunner Organization Files Lawsuit Against Social Media Companies Blaming Them for Buffalo Mass Shooting

Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP, Pool

It has been one year since a racist gunman walked into Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and opened fire, killing ten black customers and wounding three others. Payton S. Gendron, the 18-year-old who carried out the shooting, eventually pleaded guilty to the massacre and was sentenced to 11 consecutive life sentences in prison.

The shooting captured the national spotlight as the nation sought solutions to prevent atrocities such as this from happening again. As is the case with all high-profile mass shootings, the anti-gunner lobby used the mass murder to push for legislation making it harder for law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.

But now, a year later, families of some of the victims, with the help of a prominent anti-gun organization, are filing a lawsuit against various companies to hold them liable for the mass shooting.

The families of the victims of the Tops Markets massacre have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court (New York’s trial court level). They are seeking to hold several entities accountable for the hate-driven shooting. The lawsuit targets major social media platforms, including Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook), Snap, Alphabet Inc. (Google’s parent company), Discord, Reddit, and Inc.

In the filing, the plaintiffs allege that Gendron “was not raised by a racist family” and “had no personal history of negative interactions with Black people.” Gendron was motivated to carry out the attack at Tops Friendly Market “by racist, antisemitic, and white supremacist propaganda recommended and fed to him by the social media companies whose products he used.”

The plaintiffs argue that social media platforms contributed to the spread of violent images, extremist ideologies, and ideas of white supremacy. They claim that monetary motivations prevail over social media companies’ responsibility for public safety. The attorneys representing the families acknowledged the anticipated resistance from social media giants but emphasized their commitment to making the community and the country safer, with the ultimate goal of preventing future mass shootings.

The lawsuit also targets the manufacturer of the body armor worn by the shooter and the gun shop that sold him firearms. The families also named the parents of the shooter, claiming they knew of their son’s dangerous tendencies.

Giffords Law Center, a nonprofit anti-gun organization, is one of the firms representing the plaintiffs.

In a statement, Matthew P. Bergman, an attorney with the firm, said racist posts on social media led the gunman “down a rabbit hole of increasingly radical sites, where he was indoctrinated in white supremacist replacement theory and violent accelerationism.”

He added: “This horrible crime was neither an accident nor coincidence, but rather the foreseeable result of social media companies’ intentional decision to maximize user engagement over public safety.”

In the aftermath of tragic events such as the Tops Markets massacre, it is only natural to seek answers and accountability. Indeed, these discussions arise every time a tragedy like this occurs. But these lawsuits are questionable at best and terrifying at worst, especially if they succeed. If the plaintiffs win their suit, it could have devastating consequences from a liberty perspective.

Attributing direct causation between the content on these platforms and real-world violence is a difficult task. Social media companies employ algorithms to personalize users’ experiences, but this does not necessarily mean they actively endorse or promote hate-filled ideologies. Algorithms are designed to cater to users’ preferences and interests, which, unfortunately, can inadvertently result in an echo chamber effect.

Indeed, if Gendron was influenced by content on social media, which many like him have been, it was his choice to consume this material. Holding social media responsible would be akin to holding Verizon responsible if someone used their service to call Gendron and convince him to commit this crime.

One of the core tenets of a democratic society is individual responsibility. While it is convenient to place the blame on social media companies, the uncomfortable reality is that individuals ultimately choose how they engage with online content. People have agency over their actions and the ability to critically evaluate the information they consume.

Blaming social media platforms for radicalization overlooks the complex interplay of factors that contribute to an individual’s mindset, including personal experiences, upbringing, and societal influences. By focusing on social media, we neglect the other crucial factors that may have played a role in the individual’s radicalization process.

Holding social media companies accountable for individual actions would have a chilling effect on free speech, which has already been attacked on social media platforms. This lawsuit would only be another tool the authoritarian left would use to stifle opinions of which they do not approve. Imposing excessive regulations will only lead to more censorship, hindering legitimate discussions on controversial topics and potentially impinging on citizens’ fundamental rights.

The Giffords Law Center, which has been at the forefront of the gun control effort appears to be using this legal action to not only curtail gun rights, but also to crack down on speech. It is another avenue that authoritarians on the left would exploit to ensure their political opposition is not able to express their views.

As is typical, they are claiming to only target racist white supremacist speech that might radicalize people like Gendron. But too many of us have seen that these people believe anything they don’t agree with falls under this category, meaning that even mainstream right-leaning opinions are most likely to be the target than anything else. As much as I feel for the families of the victims of that terrible shooting, using government force to silence people is not the answer.



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