New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday that her office will be launching an investigation into the social media channels used by the Buffalo shooting suspect to “plan, promote, and stream” his attack. Payton Gendron, 18, allegedly detailed his shooting plan and racist ideals on several social media platforms, including Discord, according to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The New York investigation will encompass Discord, “including but not limited to” Twitch, 4chan and 8chan, according to the attorney general.
Gendron is accused of walking into a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York on Saturday and opening fire, killing 10 people. Federal officials have said they believe Gendron was motivated in his attack by a racist desire to kill as many Black people as possible, and are investigating the shooting as “a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism,” according to Garland. Gendron has pleaded not guilty to murder in the first degree, the most severe murder charge under New York law.
Federal authorities believe they have found over 600 messages written by Gendron on Discord that revealed he possibly planned the attack months in advance and even questioned why he had not been approached by the FBI yet. The messages, which officials believe are authentic, were riddled with racist and anti-semitic language.
“The terror attack in Buffalo has once again revealed the depths and danger of the online forums that spread and promote hate,” James said Wednesday. “The fact that an individual can post detailed plans to commit such an act of hate without consequence, and then stream it for the world to see is bone-chilling and unfathomable. As we continue to mourn and honor the lives that were stolen, we are taking serious action to investigate these companies for their roles in this attack.”
New York Governor Kathy Hochul added Wednesday that she issued a referral to James to investigate the social platforms that “legitimized” the extremist replacement theory spouted by Gendron. The referral will allow James to “subpoena witnesses and compel the production of documents” in an effort to investigate matters of public safety.
“Social media platforms must take responsibility and be held accountable for favoring engagement over public safety,” Hochul said Wednesday.
In a statement to CBS News, Discord said it will cooperate with James’ investigation. The company also added that while Gendron did have a diary chat log on a private server, no one else saw the messages until 30 minutes before the attack.
During a press conference Wednesday, Broome County District Attorney Michael A. Korchak said that investigations into online speech can be difficult because of the first amendment, but agreed that social media platforms populated by racist ideals are “something that should be monitored.”
Michael Kaplan and Andres Triay contributed to reporting.
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