YouTube, Facebook, Reddit must face lawsuits from Buffalo shooting survivors

(The Hill) -- A New York judge ruled that a handful of social media companies must face lawsuits from survivors of the Buffalo grocery store shooting in 2022 that left 10 people dead. 

An Erie Supreme Court judge ruled that social media companies — including YouTube, Meta and Reddit —must face lawsuits that have been brought against them and numerous other defendants to hold them accountable for helping enable Payton Gendron, who opened fire in a Tops Friendly Markets on May 14, 2022 in a racially motivated shooting.

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“At this stage of the litigation the Court must base its ruling on the allegations of the complaint and not ‘facts’ asserted by the defendants in their briefs during oral argument,” Erie Supreme Court Judge Paula L Feroleto wrote in her order rejecting the defendants’ motions to dismiss.

The plaintiffs, who include family members of the victims and survivors of the shooting, argue that the platforms “negligently, defectively and harmfully designed ‘products’ that drove Gendron to the materials and they are therefore liable based on product liability theories.”

A person visits a makeshift memorial near the scene of the mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Gendron was sentenced to life in prison last year after pleading guilty in November 2022 to state murder and domestic terrorism charges. The plaintiffs brought the lawsuit against the social media platforms last year, arguing that they gave the shooter a platform to take in racist and violent views.

Feroleto dismissed arguments brought by the social media companies that they served merely as message boards for third-party content. The defendants argue that as such, they are not liable under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act or the First Amendment. 

“The Court has determined the complaint sufficiently pleads viable causes of action to go forward at this stage of the litigation,” the order states.

Everytown, an advocacy group that pushes for gun reform and is one of the plaintiffs, celebrated the judge’s order in a statement.

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“For too long, social media companies have skirted accountability by hiding behind Section 230, claiming immunity from liability for content they distribute,” said Eric Tirschwell, Executive Director of Everytown Law.

“We must hold accountable every single bad actor that prepared and equipped the shooter to target and kill members of Buffalo’s Black community,” he added.

A spokesperson for Reddit confirmed that they will appeal the judge’s decision.

“Hate and violence have no place on Reddit. Our sitewide policies explicitly prohibit content that promotes hate based on identity or vulnerability, as well as content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or group of people,” the spokesperson said.

The Hill has reached out to Google and Meta and for comment.

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