Social Media of Buffalo Shooting Suspect Investigated by New York Attorney General

New York Attorney General Letitia James Announced Wednesday that his office will launch an investigation into the social media channels used by the Buffalo shooting suspect to “plan, promote and broadcast” his attack. Payton Gendron, 18, allegedly detailed his shooting plan and racist ideals on various social media platforms, including Discord, according to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The New York investigation will encompass Discord, “including but not limited to” Twitch, 4chan and 8chan, according to the attorney general.

Gendron is accused of walking into a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York on Saturday and opening fire, killing 10 people. Federal officials have said they believe Gendron was motivated in his attack by a racist desire to kill as many Black people as possible, and are investigating the shooting as “a hate crime and a racially motivated act of violent extremism.” according to Garland. Gendron has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, the most serious murder charge under New York law.

Federal authorities believe they have found more than 600 messages written by Gendron on Discord that revealed he possibly planned the attack months in advance and even questioned why the FBI hadn’t reached out to him yet. The messages, which officials believe to be authentic, were riddled with racist and anti-Semitic language.

“The terrorist attack in Buffalo has once again revealed the depths and danger of online forums that spread and promote hate,” James saying Wednesday. “The fact that an individual could post detailed plans to commit such an act of hate without consequence, and then broadcast it for the world to see is chilling and unfathomable. As we continue to mourn and honor the lives that were stolen, action is being taken serious to investigate these companies for their role in this attack.

Mass shooting in Buffalo New York leaves 10 dead
BUFFALO, NY – MAY 18: A monument across the street from Tops Friendly Market on Jefferson Avenue and Riley Street on Wednesday May 18, 2022 in Buffalo, NY.

Kent Nishimura

New York Governor Kathy Hochul added Wednesday that she referred James to investigate the social platforms that “legitimized” Gendron’s extremist replacement theory. The referral will allow James to “subpoena witnesses and require the production of documents” in an effort to investigate matters of public safety.

“Social media platforms must take responsibility and be held accountable for favoring engagement over public safety,” Hochul saying Wednesday.

In a statement to CBS News, a Discord spokesperson saying “hate has no place” on the platform, and the company is cooperating and assisting law enforcement with the investigation. Discord also said that while Gendron had a daily chat log on a private server, no one else saw the messages until 30 minutes before the attack.

During a news conference Wednesday, Broome County District Attorney Michael A. Korchak said investigations into online speech can be difficult because of the First Amendment, but he agreed that social media platforms societies populated by racist ideals are “something to be monitored”.

Michael Kaplan and Andres Triay contributed reporting.

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