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New lawsuit says social media and gun companies played roles in 2022 Buffalo shooting

A new civil lawsuit filed Wednesday by families of the Buffalo Tops mass shooting victims targets a number of social media companies, gun retailers, a body armor manufacturer and the mass shooter's parents. Here, a group prays at the site of a memorial for the victims of the Buffalo supermarket shooting outside the Tops Friendly Market on Saturday, May 21, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Joshua Bessex
/
AP
A new civil lawsuit filed Wednesday by families of the Buffalo Tops mass shooting victims targets a number of social media companies, gun retailers, a body armor manufacturer and the mass shooter's parents. Here, a group prays at the site of a memorial for the victims of the Buffalo supermarket shooting outside the Tops Friendly Market on Saturday, May 21, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.

The attorneys and families of the Buffalo Tops supermarket shooting victims filed a new civil lawsuit Wednesday against several social media platforms, gun retailers, and the shooter's parents for their roles in the shooting.

The 176-page lawsuit filed in the New York Supreme Court argues that several corporations in addition to the shooter's parents played a role in May 2022 deadly mass shooting that killed 10 Black people and injured three others.

Nearly a dozen companies were mentioned in the lawsuit, including Meta (which owns both Facebook and Instagram), Reddit, Amazon (which owns Twitch), Google, YouTube, Discord and 4Chan. Other companies named in the lawsuit as defendants include RMA Armament — a body-armor manufacturer — and Vintage Firearms, LLC, a gun retailer.

The lawsuit also argues that the gunman, now 20-year-old Payton Gendron was radicalized by these social media platforms, which directly lead to him carrying out the deadly shooting.

"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 states.

"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."

Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, along with attorneys Diandra Zimmerman and Terry Connors, announced the lawsuit during anews conferenceWednesday, saying that these companies will be held accountable.

"These social media companies, they knew or should have known that these algorithms will lead people to act in racist, violent manners," Crump said during the news conference.

Facebook and Instagram did not immediately respond to NPR's requests for comment regarding the lawsuit. Both RMA Armament and Vintage Firearms also could not be reached for comment.

José Castañeda, a spokesperson for YouTube, told NPR that the company has the deepest sympathies for the victims and families of the Buffalo Tops shooting.

"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," Castañeda said.

In February, Gendron was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Proceedings for Gendron's federal charges are still pending after he pleaded not guilty to 27 charges — including several hate crime charges.

The attorney general will decide at a later date whether to seek the death penalty, according to the Justice Department. Gendron has been held without bail since his arrest after the May 2022 shooting.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.