Lawsuit: YouTube and Reddit helped radicalize Buffalo mass shooter

Buffalo mass shooting survivors and bereaved loved ones take on social media platforms.
By Rebecca Ruiz  on 
A memorial of photos for victims of the Buffalo, New York, mass shooting at Tops grocery store.
Gun reform advocates sued YouTube, Reddit, and Google for their role in radicalizing the Buffalo, New York, mass shooter. Credit: Matt Burkhartt/Getty Images

Two new lawsuits argue that YouTube, along with its parent companies Alphabet and Google, and Reddit bear responsibility for helping to radicalize the mass shooter who killed 10 Black people at a Tops Friendly Markets grocery store in Buffalo, New York, in 2022.

The suits were filed Tuesday on behalf of 16 survivors of the racially-motivated massacre, and on behalf of Wayne Jones, son of Celestine Chaney, a 65-year-old grandmother of nine who was killed in the attack.

Prior to the shooting, the gunman reportedly used YouTube, Reddit, and other social media platforms to learn about conspiracy theories, including The Great Replacement, a white supremacist ideology.

The shooter, who was sentenced to life in prison earlier this year, "developed plans for a violent, racist attack using detailed information he obtained from social media sources," according to both complaints.

"This racist attack could have been prevented; numerous companies and individuals had the power to stop it from happening," said Jones in a press release. "My only hope is that this lawsuit can raise awareness and hold them accountable so that another gunman can't inflict the same kind of terror and incalculable damage."

Both suits argue that YouTube and Reddit employed algorithms and design features that "maximized the Shooter's engagement with their products by systematically promoting extreme and harmful content and giving him an unending supply of it."

They also claim that the gunman "became transfixed and addicted to this online world," and that he would access his accounts constantly, including at night.

On a Reddit forum specializing in tactical gear, the gunman was able to discuss and acquire equipment for the attack, the suits allege. YouTube videos viewed by the gunman helped him learn how to remove a firearm's magazine lock as well as win gunfights, according to the complaints.

Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, and civil rights lawyers from the firms Bonner and Bonner and Ryder Law filed both suits. A gun manufacturer, combat gear company, firearms store, and the shooter's parents are also named in the complaints.

A spokesperson for YouTube told Axios that the company extended "deepest sympathies" to those who'd been affected by the massacre.

"Through the years, YouTube has invested in technology, teams, and policies to identify and remove extremist content," the spokesperson said.

"Although nothing can ever change what happened at Tops Friendly Market on May 14, 2022, filing and fully prosecuting these lawsuits are important steps in identifying and holding accountable the bad actors that prepared and equipped the shooter to kill, maim and terrorize a Black community," Charles Bonner, principal of Bonner & Bonner, said in a statement.

Rebecca Ruiz
Rebecca Ruiz

Rebecca Ruiz is a Senior Reporter at Mashable. She frequently covers mental health, digital culture, and technology. Her areas of expertise include suicide prevention, screen use and mental health, parenting, youth well-being, and meditation and mindfulness. Prior to Mashable, Rebecca was a staff writer, reporter, and editor at NBC News Digital, special reports project director at The American Prospect, and staff writer at Forbes. Rebecca has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and a Master's in Journalism from U.C. Berkeley. In her free time, she enjoys playing soccer, watching movie trailers, traveling to places where she can't get cell service, and hiking with her border collie.

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