“The fact that this act of barbarism, this execution of innocent human beings, could be livestreamed on social media platforms and not taken down within a second says to me that there is a responsibility out there,” Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York said after the shooting in Buffalo. Four days later the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, announced that she had begun an investigation into the role the platforms played.
Facebook pointed to its rules and policies that prohibit hateful content. In a statement, a spokeswoman said the platform detects over 96 percent of content tied to hate organizations before it is reported. Twitter declined to comment. Some of the social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit that The New York Times identified through reverse image searches were deleted; some of the accounts that shared the images were suspended.
The man charged in the killings, Payton Gendron, 18, detailed his attack on Discord, a chat app that emerged from the video game world in 2015, and streamed it live on Twitch, which Amazon owns. The company managed to take down his video within two minutes, but many of the sources of disinformation he cited remain online even now.
His paper trail provides a chilling glimpse into how he prepared a deadly assault online, culling tips on weaponry and tactics and finding inspiration in fellow racists and previous attacks that he largely mimicked with his own. Altogether, the content formed a twisted and racist view of reality. The gunman considered the ideas to be an alternative to mainstream views.
“How does one prevent a shooter like me you ask?” he wrote on Discord in April, more than a month before the shooting. “The only way is to prevent them from learning the truth.”
His writings map in detail the websites that motivated him. Much of the information he cobbled together in his writings involved links or images he had cherry-picked to match his racist views, reflecting the kind of online life he lived.
By his own account, the young man’s radicalization began not long after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when he was largely restricted to his home like millions of other Americans. He described getting his news mostly from Reddit before joining 4chan, the online message board. He followed topics on guns and the outdoors before finding another devoted to politics, ultimately settling in a place that allowed a toxic mélange of racist and extremist disinformation.