Buffalo, New York, mass shooting claimed 10 lives Saturday was an event created by and for internet platforms including message boards, streaming and social media.
Now as a predominantly black neighborhood that murder suspect Targeted Payton Gendron can’t figure out if these platforms are allowing their users to spread the racist “great replacement theory” that apparently motivated him has become a matter of public safety.
In the past, major social media companies have cited clear links to real-world violence as an incentive to crack down on certain categories of extremist speech. Facebook has long allowed Holocaust denial under the banner of free speech. ultimately banned such messages in 2020 in response to rising levels of anti-Semitic violence. it’s the same prohibited QAnon’s conspiracy movement for similar reasons, stating that even QAnon content that does not in itself encourage violence can still be “associated with various forms of harm in the real world”.
Theoretically, the Buffalo massacre could be the moment of truth for the great replacement theory, which claims that white people are being “replaced” by non-white groups, and which Gendron has repeatedly referenced in a 180-page manifesto posted on the Internet. before the spree.
But it’s unclear how things will actually play out, given the political pressure being placed on social media companies and the acceptance of such rhetoric by some of the right’s most prominent figures.
Representatives from Twitch, Facebook and Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what specific strategies or rules they use to moderate content with a distinct replacement theory. A YouTube representative did not immediately comment.
According to Courtney Rudsch, a research fellow at the UCLA Institute of Technology, Law, and Policy, on most major social platforms, hate speech directed at a particular group, as well as threats of violence associated with it, usually already constitute a breach of terms of service. services. . The Buffalo shooting could give tech companies some leeway to enforce those rules more aggressively, she said.
“I think when you see a connection to real world violence, and such a direct connection, it will provide the best cover” for the crackdown, Radsch said.
“However,” she said, “this is going to be a very difficult situation because most of this speech is taking place in extreme right-wing circles; you have this Tucker Carlson and Fox News cover.”
New York Times analysis of the 1,150 episodes of Carlson’s Fox show Tucker Carlson Tonight, racial substitution-based fear-mongering was identified as a consistent throughline, including over 400 episodes in which Carlson claimed Democrats (and some Republicans) were trying to use immigration policy to change American demographics.
Radsch said that because there is already a perception among some conservatives that social media companies are biased against right-wing content — a view that research disproves — cracking down on replacement posts could land platforms in politically dangerous waters. “It might be harder for these platforms to operate.”
Wendy Via, co-founder and president of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said that because social media platforms often refer to the powerful and well-connected with children, Carlson and other ideologically oriented politicians such as JD Vance and Jim Jordan, “Don’t go through moderation like everyone else does.”
“Great substitute content will circulate out of control because those who promote it” enjoy preferential treatment, Via said. “Passage allowed.”
This is not a new problem.
After the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019 targeted several mosquesFacebook “immediately took action” to take down grand replacement theory proponents, including the group Generation IdentityVia said. (When Facebook’s list of “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” that cannot be praised on the platform leaked last yearit featured several European offshoots of Generation Identity.)
But the problem, according to Via, is that such efforts happen unevenly and unevenly across different social networks.
“You need these big things to make them work,” she said, but even then, “they don’t go from zero to 100. They go from zero to 20… They need to go from zero to 100, not halfway through. to this but it takes people to die to make them move [even] gradually.
“But I believe that they will move gradually [now]. ”
Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Extremism, was even less certain.
“I try not to be a pessimist, but if the past is any indication, I don’t know how successful they will be, or how much effort many of these companies will put into it,” Segal. said, adding that similar corporate reform cycles have played out since the Christchurch shooting and also in 2019. Shooting in El Paso aimed at Hispanics and white nationalist 2017 Rally “We unite the right.” in Charlottesville, Virginia. The theory of great replacement played a central role in both cases.
“It’s rinsing and repeating,” Segal said. “Ultimately, do the changes they make in response to the tragedy have a long-term impact?”
Power figures like Carlson promoting the ideology behind this latest tragedy may discourage platform companies from fighting its spread, Segal said, but that shouldn’t be the case.
“The fact that the ‘great replacement’ is becoming ubiquitous not only in some fringe extremist space, but also in our public discussions,” he said, “suggests they have more reason to take a stand on [moderating it]no less. “