Reddit, YouTube to face lawsuits claiming they enabled a mass shooter

A New York judge ruled Reddit, YouTube and YouTube’s parent companies Google and Alphabet Inc. must face lawsuits that allege their content algorithms contributed to the radicalization of an 18-year-old gunman who executed a racially motivated attack in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 Black people in 2022. 

The lawsuits were filed last year by gun control advocacy group Everytown Law, which specializes in this type of litigation, on behalf of 25 survivors of the massacre at a Tops Friendly Market. 

The tech companies claim that their platforms are merely message boards and are therefore protected by the Communications Decency Act and the First Amendment, but their motion to dismiss was denied on Monday by Erie County Supreme Court Justice Paula Feroleto. 

In the decision she wrote, “they may yet establish that their platforms are not products or that the negligent design features plaintiffs have alleged are not part of their platforms. However, 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 or during oral argument and those allegations allege viable causes of action under a products liability theory.”

Everytown said these social media sites have a “well-documented tendency to addict teenagers” built within their recommendation algorithms and features. 

“The shooter was addicted to these websites, and these websites radicalized him against the Black community and equipped him with the knowledge he needed to execute his horrific plans,” said Everytown  when the lawsuits were first filed. “These websites’ design features and algorithms shepherded him along the path of radicalization and taught him how to obtain military-grade armaments like his body armor, modify his weapon to enable its semi-automatic firing capacity, and conduct a military-style assault operation with deadly efficiency.”

Representatives for YouTube and Reddit provided separate statements on the decision to CNN, both stating they plan to appeal and evaluate their individual platforms. 

The companies are also currently facing scrutiny over extremist material in Australia, along with Meta, X, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to The Associated Press, the country’s eSafety regulator issued legal notices Tuesday asking each company to detail the steps they are taking to protect Australian users of the platforms from harmful material.