New York Attorney General Letitia James announced his office is launching investigations on various online platforms and social media companies, after the May 14 terrorist attack in Buffalo, which claimed 10 lives and injured three people. The suspect, a heavily armed white supremacist, streamed the murders live on Twitch and partially masterminded the attack on a private Discord server.
During the attack, Twitch became aware of the live stream and removed it two minutes after the broadcast. “The user has been indefinitely suspended from our service and we are taking all appropriate steps, including monitoring any accounts that are rebroadcasting this content,” Twitch said at the time. Discord said it was cooperating with police investigating the gunman’s use of the platform, but declined to comment further.
Shortly after the attack, New York Governor Kathy Hochul demanded that social media platforms do more to prevent these flows from being shared. “There is a frenzy on social media platforms where hate festers more hate, it has to stop,” Hochul said during a briefing. “These outlets must be more vigilant in monitoring social media content. And certainly the fact that this act of barbarism, this execution of innocent human beings, can be broadcast live on social media platforms and not be taken down in a second , tells me there is a responsibility out there.
“We’re going to keep working on that and make sure those who provide these platforms have morals and ethics, and I hope I have a legal responsibility to make sure that this hate can’t populate these sites, because that’s the result.”
The New York Attorney General’s investigations “will look at the social media companies and other online resources the gunman used to discuss and amplify his intentions and acts to carry out this attack.” Investigations will focus on the platforms used to broadcast, promote or plan the event and will include, but not be limited to: Twitch, 4chan, 8chan and Discord.
It’s also likely at some point to look at Roblox, which isn’t mentioned in the ad but has been referenced multiple times by the shooter.
In the Buffalo shooting suspect’s Discord records, he directly links an interest in nationalism and guns to playing Roblox. pic.twitter.com/GC1ijTiEeLMay 18, 2022
“The terrorist attack in Buffalo has once again revealed the depth and danger of online forums that spread and promote hate,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “The fact that an individual can post detailed plans to commit such an act of hate without consequences, and then broadcast it for the world to see is frightening and unfathomable. As we continue to mourn and honor the lives that have been stolen, we are taking action.” We are serious about investigating these companies for their roles in this attack. Time after time, we have seen the real-world devastation caused by these dangerous and heinous platforms and we are doing everything in our power to shine the spotlight on this alarming behavior and take steps to ensure this. never happen again.”
The AG office says the gunman had been posting online for months about his beliefs and even discussed plans to attack several other locations he believed would have a sizable black community. The posts include information about his plans to carry out the Buffalo raid and accounts of visits he made to the site before the murders. The AG statement also says that the shooter “broadcast the attack on another social media platform, which was accessible to the public”, although it is unclear whether this refers to Twitch or another as-yet-unnamed streaming platform.
This isn’t the first time a premeditated hate crime has involved a plot to broadcast the attack. A 2019 attack on a synagogue in Germany, in which two people were killed, was streamed on Twitch, and attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, where 51 people were killed, were streamed live on Facebook. The Buffalo shooter’s manifesto says he was inspired by the Christchurch attacker’s live stream, which he found on 4chan, and introduced him to various racist conspiracy theories.
So, one of the first questions might be: why hasn’t this kind of investigation happened until now? While those of us in the gaming industry are used to ignoring the more strident claims made about the hobby by the likes of Fox News, it seems undeniable that adjacent gaming platforms played some role in the radicalization of this shooter. In fact, this attack follows on from previous reporting on fascist groups on Roblox.
The investigations follow a nomination from New York Governor Hochul and will have broad powers. During the investigations, the Attorney General’s Office may summon witnesses and oblige the companies involved to present the necessary documentation. Discord and Twitch are prominent public-facing companies and therefore full cooperation is expected, but what happens to chan sites could be interesting.
That said, it’s unclear what NY officials hope to discover here. A chat service like Discord being used for evil purposes seems like a human problem and not a technology problem (Discord once made a spree to ban white supremacist servers after criticism), while Twitch’s response in this case was quick. Unfortunately, this looks like a problem these platforms and authorities will face for a long time to come.