Social Media Victims Law Center, Law Office of John V. Elmore, Giffords Law Center file wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of victims of 2022 mass shooting at Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, N.Y.
Lawsuit alleges that social media platforms’ algorithms, which highlighted violent racist and antisemitic material, radicalized gunman Payton Gendron and inspired attack on a predominantly Black community
BUFFALO, NY – May 12, 2023 – The Social Media Victims Law Center, The Law Office of John V. Elmore, P.C., and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in response to Payton Gendron’s racially motivated attack at Tops Friendly Markets in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 14, 2022. Ten people were killed, all of them Black, and three people were injured.
The complaint, which was filed with the State of New York Supreme Court, County of Erie, alleges that Gendron was radicalized by the algorithms driving the social media products he used, which fed him increasingly racist, antisemitic, and violence-inducing content. These addictive algorithms, in turn, maximized his engagement with the platforms and the corresponding advertising revenue to the companies. These radicalized posts also provided the training, access to equipment, and expertise to plan and execute the massacre.
Those named in the lawsuit are Meta Platforms, Inc., formerly known as Facebook; Snap, Inc.; Alphabet, Inc., Google’s parent company; Discord, Inc.; Reddit, Inc.; Amazon.com, Inc., which operates the Twitch livestreaming service; RMA Armament, an Iowa-based body armor manufacturer; Vintage Firearms, a retail gun store located in Endicott, N.Y.; MEAN L.L.C., a manufacturer in Woodstock, Ga., which sells the MEAN MA Lock; and Paul and Pamela Gendron, Gendron’s parents.
“Gendron was motivated to commit his heinous crime by racist, antisemitic, and white supremacist propaganda fed to him by social media companies,” said Matthew P. Bergman, founding attorney of the Social Media Victims Law Center. “These posts led him down a rabbit hole of increasingly radical sites, where he was indoctrinated in white supremacist replacement theory and violent accelerationism. 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.”
“I and my law partner, Kristen Elmore-Garcia, have been working with the families of this senseless, racially motivated hate crime for the past year,” said attorney John V. Elmore. “Payton Gendron has pled guilty to these murders and is no longer a danger to society. However, the social media platforms that radicalized him, and the companies that armed him, must still be held accountable for their actions. Our goal, on behalf of our clients, is to make this community and our nation safer and prevent other mass shootings.”
According to the lawsuit, Gendron livestreamed his murderous rampage on Twitch, hoping to inspire future acts of mass violence. The ability to livestream his attack was a major factor in convincing him to go forward with the massacre, the lawsuit says.
“No one deserves to lose their life at the hands of another, especially when that person was motivated by false and hateful content fed to them online,” said attorney Kristen Elmore-Garcia. “The combination of racist rhetoric on social media and the availability of combat-style gear created a deadly situation that should never happen again.”
“The perpetrator of the horrific hate-fueled massacre on May 14 is behind bars, serving life without parole, and that is only right,” said Adam Skaggs, Chief Counsel & Vice President, Giffords Law Center. “But he alone is not responsible for this tragedy: the social media companies that radicalized him and the companies that profited from outfitting him with body armor and an illegal gun also bear responsibility. The lawsuit filed today will bring accountability to these companies and justice for our clients.”
The lawsuit is being brought on behalf of survivor Latisha Rogers, 34, who was working customer service at Tops and called 911 in the midst of the horrific attack; and the families of the following three victims, all of whom were killed in the massacre:
- Andre Mackneil, 53, a father of five who was at Tops to buy a birthday cake for his three-year-old son’s birthday party.
- Katherine “Kat” Massey, 72, a community activist and retired teacher.
- Heyward Patterson, 67, a deacon at State Tabernacle Church of God and a retired security guard.
Planning a Massacre
Gendron, a white male who was 18 at the time of the attack, was fueled by white supremacist ideology. He drove more than 200 miles to carry out a murderous rampage that specifically targeted Black people.
Prior to the shooting, he went to Tops on multiple occasions and created handwritten sketches of its interior. Gendron also outlined his plan in writing on his Discord account. First, he wrote a statement on Discord containing a detailed plan to murder Black people, including an in-depth analysis of the weapon and other equipment he would use during the attack. Second, he chronicled the progress and development of his plan on Discord in the months leading up to the attack.
Gendron’s motive for targeting and attacking Black shoppers and employees was clear. The weapons used in the attack and recovered from his vehicle – a bolt-action rifle, a shotgun and an AR-15 assault rifle – were marked with phrases and symbols commonly used by white supremacists.
The lawsuit alleges that, shortly before 2:00 p.m. on May 14, 2022, Gendron invited several other users to a chat room on the Discord platform, where he posted a link to a live stream, as well as a personal statement and personal diary, which he had written to justify his violence and inspire future shootings.
Approximately 22 minutes into the Twitch livestream, fueled by the knowledge that other users were watching him in real-time, Gendron stepped out of his car and began shooting. Gendron’s livestream on Twitch lasted approximately 24 minutes and was viewed by roughly two dozen other Twitch users. Twitch stopped the livestream approximately two minutes after the violence started, when the massacre was mostly complete.
While only a small number of people viewed the livestream in real-time, video of the massacre was subsequently re-posted on other numerous online platforms, including 4chan, kiwifarms.net, Facebook, and Reddit, along with many other social media platforms.
Kristen Elmore-Garcia is a former Erie County Assistant District Attorney. In addition to her background as a criminal prosecutor, she has experience in insurance defense litigation and personal injury claims. She also has legal experience with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York, the Erie County Department of Law; and the University of Missouri System’s Office of the General Counsel. She serves as a board member for the Charter School for Applied Technologies, as well as on the YMCA Buffalo Niagara Community Leadership Board.
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is the nation’s leading policy organization dedicated to researching, writing, enacting, and defending proven laws and programs, and is on a mission to save lives from gun violence by shifting culture, changing policies, and challenging injustice.
If your child or young family member has suffered from serious depression, chronic eating disorder, hospitalization, sexual exploitation, self-harm, or suicide as a result of their social media use, speak to us today for a no-cost legal consultation.