By Maria Caspani
NEW YORK (Reuters) -New York state authorities have launched an investigation into several social media platforms they believe the accused Buffalo grocery store gunman used to plan, promote and broadcast the attack that left 10 dead, state Attorney General Letitia James said on Wednesday.
Governor Kathy Hochul unveiled several additional measures aimed at combating domestic terrorism, including legislation to tighten New York gun laws and a directive for state police to exercise their authority to disarm individuals deemed a public threat.
James, responding to a referral letter from Hochul to investigate social media’s role in the massacre, said her inquiry will focus on Twitch, the live video service owned by Amazon.com, as well as the internet chat site Discord, online message boards 4chan and 8chan, and other platforms “the shooter used to amplify his attack.”
“This terror attack again revealed the depths and dangers of these platforms that spread and promote hate without consequence,” James said. “We are doing everything in our power to stop this dangerous behavior now and ensure it never happens again.”
The FBI said Payton Gendron, who is white, committed an act of “racially motivated violent extremism” on Saturday when he opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at a grocery store in a predominantly African-American neighborhood of Buffalo, shooting 13 people. Most of the victims were Black. Ten died.
Authorities said Gendron, 18, had broadcast the attack in real time on Twitch before surrendering to police, and was believed to have posted a white supremacist manifesto and a lengthy check list and account of his preparations on social media before the rampage.
Gendron has been jailed without bond on a charge of first-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty.
‘FEEDING FRENZY’ OF HATE
Twitch said in a statement the day of the shooting that it had removed the livestream less than two minutes after it started and was working to ensure no other accounts re-posted the content.
Hochul, blaming social media platforms for a “feeding frenzy” of violent extremist ideology propagating on the internet, said Twitch should have taken down the video of the shooting “within a second.”
Screenshots from the broadcast circulated on social media through the day, including some that appeared to show the gunman standing over a body in the grocery store. Reuters was able to find footage from the livestream still posted on a website as recently as Wednesday morning.
A 589-page planning document written by the suspect under a different user name was posted on Discord, according to media reports. Discord said in a statement, “We will cooperate with the New York attorney general’s investigation.”
The other companies referenced by James’ announcement did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Seeking to stave off further attacks from people believed by authorities to pose a public safety risk, Hochul on Wednesday directed state police obtain emergency court orders under New York’s ‘red-flag’ law to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals considered a danger to themselves or others.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks hate and extremist groups, told Reuters that the Buffalo gunman suspect “had a substantial online history in niche, toxic online communities.”
The suspect came to the attention of local law enforcement nearly a year before the Buffalo shooting when police detained him after he made a threat at his high school, according to Buffalo’s police commissioner, who said Gendron was given a mental health evaluation and released.
Hochul also announced a package of gun safety legislation, including measures to widen the definition of weapons subject to preexisting firearms regulations, bolster gun-recovery reporting requirements for law enforcement, and improve the tracking of guns fired in committing crimes.
In addition, the governor signed an executive order creating a new domestic terrorism unit within state law enforcement and establishing a state police unit devoted to tracking and responding to extremist violent threats on social media.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Mark Porter and Rosalba O’Brien)