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New York State releases report detailing role of social media platforms in Buffalo mass shooting

The report details the influence of platforms as well as the monitoring of platforms to allow extremist and hateful views to proliferate.

BUFFALO, NY — New York State Attorney General Letitia James published the results of an investigation Tuesday into the role online platforms may have played in the mass shooting at Jefferson Tops Market in Buffalo on May 14.

10 people were killed and three others were injured in the massacre, and almost immediately there was a call for an investigation into the online activity of the man accused of the shooting, and how it could have happened. influence.

James says his office reviewed thousands of pages of documents and social media content as the basis for its report, which concluded 18-year-old Payton Gendron was influenced by what he saw and read online.

“There are a number of fringe social media platforms that are responsible for radicalizing this young man,” James said during a WGRZ town hall interview.

According to James, these websites allow opinions, including those of extremists calling for violence, to be shared anonymously with virtually no moderation.

In particular, the report mentions 4Chan, where the accused posted a manifesto before the shootings, and Twitch, which he used to livestream them as they happened.

Among the things James is proposing is to make it a crime in New York for someone who commits murder to record or produce footage of the murder.

She also suggests imposing fines on those who then share this content with others.

However, noted criminal defense and First Amendment attorney Paul Cambria expressed doubts about the ability of either law to withstand a challenge in the Supreme Court and cited the case States United against Stevens as an example.

“When the Stevens case came before the Supreme Court, which involved the making of movies showing animals being crushed to death, the Supreme Court said that was not an exception to the First Amendment. In other words, you can punish the individuals involved for the criminal act (of animal cruelty), but not for making a movie out of it,” Cambria said.

Regarding civil penalties for those who share such content, Cambria pointed out that this would be tantamount to fining Abraham Zapruder for streaming the film he took that captured the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

However, James noted that there is actually a notable restriction regarding the type of content that can be produced and distributed.

“Right now it is criminal to possess or share child pornography. There is both criminal and civil liability,” said James, who suggests depictions of hate and criminal violence should perhaps be considered in the same vein.

Meanwhile, other suggestions from James would require action by Congress, which Cambria said could also face constitutional challenges.

These include restricting your ability to stream live events, delaying them (the report noted that Gendron’s live stream was removed but not until 2 minutes after the massacre), asking service providers restricting access to websites that disseminate violent or hateful content, and reducing the fairly broad protections that social media platforms currently have against liability for user-posted content.

“There has to be some accountability for some of these social media platforms,” said James, who is asking Congress to amend Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act that would increase social media accountability. and online platforms to prevent violent criminal content. to be shared on their platforms.

While the report concludes that so-called fringe online platforms “have radicalized the accused shooter”, it also mentions more mainstream social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, which James says are not doing enough to moderate content, including content that violates their own policies, while demonstrating a lack of transparency regarding their content moderation policies or even how they are applied in practice

Cambria thinks the most practical way to achieve these goals, rather than pass laws that the courts will throw down, would be to license social media platforms.

“We already have something like that,” Cambria said. “The FCC, for example, licenses broadcast stations, where it sets rules and regulations that are part of the licensing process and must be followed.”

Broadcast station regulations include restrictions on language and programming based on the types of viewers who might be watching or listening at different times of the day or night.

However, there are no such regulations for the Internet.

“They should almost create another organization to oversee this,” Cambria said. “And that’s the hard part…if they could do it and comply with the First Amendment.”


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