Online platform 4chan helped radicalize supermarket mass shooter, AG finds

Online forums like 4chan are being blamed in part for radicalizing the man who carried out a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York earlier this year.

On Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on Twitter several key findings of her office’s investigation into the fatal incident. On May 14, 18-year-old Payton S. Gendron opened fire at a Tops Friendly supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood of Buffalo, killing 10 people and injuring 3 others.

“In May, my office launched an investigation into the online platforms used by the shooter at Tops Market in Buffalo to plan, promote and stream his terrorist attack,” James tweeted. “Today we release our report and call for reforms to tackle online extremism and violence.”

Among her list of findings, James said “fringe online platforms” played a role in the young gunman’s radicalisation. She specifically cited 4chan, a notorious online image board known for its often toxic culture and penchant for bigoted content. The board also lacks proper moderation, which allows inappropriate content to thrive.

“The anonymity offered by 4chan and similar platforms and their refusal to moderate content in a meaningful way ensures that these platforms are and remain hotbeds of racist hate speech and radicalization,” the report said.

Buffalo Shooter radicalized by 4chan
Above is a shot of Tops Supermarket in Buffalo after the May mass shooting. New York Attorney General Letitia James released her office’s report on Tuesday about the background to the tragic incident.
John Normile/Getty Images

James further highlighted live-streaming platforms like Twitch, which her office’s investigation found “that they were armed to promote this violent act of terrorism and promote copycat attacks.” Gendron tried to use Twitch, one of the biggest platforms in the live streaming industry, to broadcast his shooting, but the site ended the stream after two minutes.

The Attorney General also said that “online platforms allow hateful, extremist views to spread quickly”. She didn’t single out any particular platform or mention one that had an impact on Gendron. Numerous major platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, have addressed hateful and dangerous content in recent years.

Continuing her statement, James called on New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to take action on the issues contributing to extremism and violence online.

“New York and other states need to pass laws criminalizing graphic images or videos created by someone performing an attack and punishing re-sharing or re-posting the same content,” James wrote. “Federal laws need to be changed to require companies to take steps to prevent violent criminal content from being shared on their platforms. Businesses need to identify violence and stop it from being streamed live before it can be shared.”

Hochul issued a referral to James earlier this year to investigate how online platforms contributed to the Buffalo shootings, which ultimately led to Tuesday’s report. In response to the attorney general’s finding, the Democratic governor called the report a “chilling account of the factors that contributed to this incident and, most importantly, a roadmap for greater accountability.” For Hochul, the matter is particularly personal since Buffalo is her hometown.

news week contacted Hochul’s office for further comments. Online platform 4chan helped radicalize supermarket mass shooter, AG finds

Rick Schindler

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