New York’s Governor Calls Out Social Media Companies After Buffalo Shooting

New York’s Governor Calls Out Social Media Companies After Buffalo Shooting
The governor of New York is pushing for monitoring of online content as others advocate for free speech on social media platforms. (Photo: Office of the Governor of New York, AP)

In light of the racially motivated mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket that killed 11 people, New York Governor Kathy Hochul is urging social media companies to do more to combat hate speech on their platforms.

Speaking at a news conference on Saturday night, Hochul called out social media companies for not doing enough to monitor racist, anti-immigrant, and antisemitic content posted on their platforms, and suggested that they establish a system that notifies authorities of online content that could be deemed dangerous. The governor added that she wants to meet with these companies soon to hold them accountable, and discuss what can be done.

“I want them to sit in the room, look me in the eye and tell me to have you done everything humanly possible to make sure that you’re monitoring this content the second it hits your platform,” Hochul said during the news conference. “If you’re not then I’m going to hold you responsible. So, prove to me that there is nothing else that can be done.”

The deadly shooting was live streamed on the online platform Twitch by the 18-year-old White male suspect Payton Gendron. The video was taken down shortly after but it showed the shooter’s point of view as he was driving up to a Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo, New York, before opening fire on people. Eleven out of the 13 people shot (11 of whom were Black) were killed in one of the deadliest shootings in recent history.

Prior to the shooting, Gendron had also posted a lengthy pdf containing a manifesto with racist and antisemitic content that references the white supremacist theory known as the “great replacement theory” that warns that White people are allegedly being replaced in America by minority groups, and that immigration will destroy American values. The theory was utilised as part of Facebook ads by Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in 2021, citing a “permanent election insurrection.”

In the manifesto which was allegedly written by Gendron, the 18-year-old claimed that he was radicalized on the internet during the early days of the pandemic, and began doing his own research on low birth rates for White people would ultimately lead to the replacement of the Europeans. The manifesto also claims that the gunman chose the Tops Supermarket in Buffalo because “it has the highest black population percentage” by zip code.

“We don’t know if there are other people who are now going to be inspired, which is exactly what this cruel depraved person intended if you read the manifesto, he intended to make sure that other people would see it would happen in real-time here so they would consider other acts as well,” Governor Hochul said.

Hochul’s comments come amidst an ongoing debate over online censorship as members of the far-right express growing discontent with how social media platforms have been regulating their content. Billionaire Elon Musk has now become the champion of so-called “free speech” for republicans after echoing their sentiment regarding censorship on Twitter (which he has offered to buy for $US44 ($61) billion). Musk refers to himself as a “free speech absolutist” and his vision for the social media platform seems to include very little restriction on content.

Meanwhile, social media platforms are struggling to keep violent content off their sites. In 2019, it took Facebook 17 minutes to take down a live streamed video of a White supremacist’s attack on a mosque in New Zealand that killed 51 people. Although Twitch managed to take down the Buffalo shooting video in about two minutes, as well as any copies that were made of it, some argue that’s still not enough.

“The fact that this act of barbarism, this execution of innocent human beings could be livestreamed on social media platforms and not taken down within a second, says to me that there is a responsibility out there,” Hochul told reporters.