Social media helped radicalize Tops mass shooter, lawyers seek to hold platforms accountable

a person using a laptop to access social media

If Payton Gendron had gone to Tops Market and stood on a milk crate and voiced his hateful, racist, white supremacist theories, it would’ve been a horrible thing to listen to, but it would not have been a crime; it would have been protected by the First Amendment. We’re not talking about speech, we’re talking about murderous conduct. And we’re talking about algorithms and companies that encourage and radicalize people to commit unspeakable acts of racist cruelty. That’s not free speech, that’s something else.” – Attorney Matthew Bergman

Attorney Matthew Bergman of the Social Media Victims Law Center is a key attorney representing plaintiffs in the Buffalo shooting case this week as arguments continue over the influence social media platforms had on shooter Payton Gendron’s racially motivated shooting rampage.

For the first time, we have the opportunity to put these companies under oath and ask them to explain why they designed algorithms that addict young people, why they designed algorithms that radicalize people, and why they continue to do so in the face of universal condemnation” – Attorney Matthew Bergman 

In May of 2022, Gendron walked into Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue and shot and killed 10 people, all of whom were Black. 

The claim is that Gendron was radicalized by violent, racist, and hateful content served to him on 4Chan. Meta, Snapchat, Discord, YouTube, and Amazon were also mentioned by victims families for also playing a role. Plantiffs attorneys are pushing for social media companies to take accountability:

This day will determine whether the community of Buffalo has the opportunity to hold social media companies responsible and accountable for the carnage that their deliberate-designed decisions have inflicted on this community,” said attorney Matthew Bergman. “It’s not a question of whether we win or lose, it’s that we get to play the game.”

“All we’re saying is that these companies should have the same duty that every other company in America has — the duty to think about the dangers their product have.” – Attorney Matthew Bergman

Barbara Massey Mapps, the sister of Katherine Massey, who was killed during the Tops shooting, expressed her thanks for the work being done to hold these social media companies accountable:

“I call them the ‘A Team’ because they care about everbody and they’re doing a great job,” said Massey Mapps.

Lawyers for 4Chan argue that Gendron would have had to go out of state to access their platform because 4Chan is banned in New York State. While there is no record of Gendron having seen any 4Chan ads, based on the platform’s total ad revenue, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume he did see an ad. 

“It would be reasonable to presume,” said Matthew Bergman. Three percent of the company’s ad revenue comes from its activities in New York.

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