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Suit against social media companies including Meta, Google says racist Buffalo Tops gunman was radicalized online

Payton Gendron, who has pleaded guilty to murder and hate crime charges and is serving life in prison, was not racist until he became addicted to social media apps, the suit says.
People hug outside the scene after a shooting at a Tops Friendly Market
People hug outside a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y., after a shooting on May 14, 2022.Joshua Bessex / AP

The white gunman who slaughtered 10 Black people in a racist attack at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, last year was radicalized on the internet, attorneys representing the victims’ families said Wednesday in announcing a far-reaching wrongful death lawsuit against social media companies, weapon manufacturers and gun retailers.

“These social media companies, they knew or should have known that these algorithms will lead people to act in racist, violent manners,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump said at a news conference.

“The manufacturers of these body armors should have known this type of body armor leads to bloody massacres. And the gun sellers knew or should have known that these guns would lead to gut-wrenching murder. But yet, they all looked the other way," he continued.

The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in Erie County in state Supreme Court — New York’s highest trial court — names about a dozen defendants, including Meta, Facebook and Instagram; Alphabet, Google and YouTube; Discord and 4chan. Other companies named as defendants include RMA Armament, a body-armor manufacturer, and Vintage Firearms LLC, a gun retailer.

Also named as defendants are the parents of Payton Gendron, Paul and Pamela Gendron, who should have known their son was plotting the mass shooting, the lawsuit says.

The Gendrons could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. Representatives for Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, could not be reached.

A spokesperson for YouTube, which is part of Alphabet-owned Google, said in a statement Wednesday: “We have the deepest sympathies for the victims and families of the horrific attack at Tops grocery store in Buffalo last year. Through the years, YouTube has invested in technology, teams, and policies to identify and remove extremist content. We regularly work with law enforcement, other platforms, and civil society to share intelligence and best practices.” 

Personnel with RMA Armament and Vintage Firearms also could not be reached for comment.

“By his own admission, Gendron, a vulnerable teenager, was not racist until he became addicted to social media apps and was lured, unsuspectingly, into a psychological vortex by defective social media applications designed, marketed, and pushed out by social media defendants, and fed a steady stream of racist and white supremacist propaganda and falsehoods by some of those same defendants’ products,” the lawsuit says. “Addiction to these defective social media products leads users like Gendron into social isolation. Once isolated, Gendron became radicalized by overexposure to fringe, racist ideologies and was primed for the reckless and wanton conduct of the weapons and body armor defendants.”

Payton Gendron was 18 years old on May 14, 2022, when he drove more than 200 miles to Tops Friendly Markets and committed the massacre.

Police said Gendron livestreamed the moment he opened fire and continued shooting inside while dressed in tactical gear.

He used an assault-style rifle and wore body armor and a helmet with a GoPro camera attached. Gendron appeared to have broadcast parts of the attack for less than two minutes on the platform Twitch.

He was sentenced in February to life in prison without the possibility of parole.