New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday that her office will investigate several social media companies and online platforms in connection with the deadly attack in Buffalo over the weekend. Among these platforms are two frequently tied to gaming, Twitch and Discord, but the investigation will also target 4chan and 8chan, James said.
The attack that spurred these investigations occurred in Buffalo, New York on Saturday, when 18-year-old Payton Gendron opened fire in a crowded supermarket, killing 10 people and wounding three others. It was later discovered that Gendron had posted messages on various social media sites, including those that the attorney general now says her office is investigating, to state that his attack was racially motivated. Gendron, a white man, noted that he chose the area of the attack due to its concentration of Black residents.
Gendron also went live on Twitch to stream the attack, but the livestream and his channel were not taken down until after the attack. According to a statement to CNN from a Twitch spokesperson, the footage was removed within two minutes.
“The terror attack in Buffalo has once again revealed the depths and danger of the online forums that spread and promote hate,” Attorney General Letitia James said in her official announcement of the investigation. “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. Time and time again, we have seen the real-world devastation that is borne of these dangerous and hateful platforms, and we are doing everything in our power to shine a spotlight on this alarming behavior and take action to ensure it never happens again.”
It’s unclear what James means when she calls the platforms themselves “dangerous.” It’s similarly unclear what exactly this investigation might entail. While the press release states that it seeks to investigate platforms that the shooter used to “plan, promote, and stream” the attack, there are no explicit details about the upcoming investigation, or indications that it will relate to their moderation or reporting policies. There is also no indication about whether the investigations will focus on prevention of future or attacks or just an analysis of the platforms themselves.
Polygon has reached out to James’ office for additional details and will update this story with any response.
According to reports, Gendron used several of these platforms at one time or another in the planning of his attack. In 2020, Gendron reportedly watched the livestreamed mosque shooting in New Zealand from 2019 (that attack was streamed on Facebook) and mentioned a 2019 shooting in Halle, Germany that was also streamed on Twitch. Gendron reportedly wrote about his plan of attack on a private Discord channel, which he later invited people to join to read his plan. In the months prior, Gendron had reportedly been involved in other Discord channels or groups, including one where he posted a racist manifesto.
In a statement to the New York Times, Twitch said, “Twitch has a zero-tolerance policy against violence of any kind and works swiftly to respond to all incidents. The user has been indefinitely suspended from our service, and we are taking all appropriate action, including monitoring for any accounts rebroadcasting this content.”
In a statement to CNN, a Discord spokesperson said that it had removed the server that Gendron used and related content “as soon as” it was aware of it after the shooting. “Our deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families,” a spokesperson said. “Hate has no place on Discord and we are committed to combatting violence and extremism.”