The New Jersey Acting Attorney General has launched an investigation into Twitch and Discord to see if the platforms are breaking laws against hateful and extremist content following a recent mass shooting in Buffalo. In an announcement published Monday, Acting New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin wrote that the purpose of the investigation was to find out whether policy or moderation failures allowed the platforms to become vectors for spreading extremist content, especially among young people. The investigation follows a similar investigation launched last week by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
The 18-year-old who has been accused of shooting 13 people in a Tops supermarket, killing 10, used Discord to spread his white supremacist ideology and broadcast the attack live on Twitch. Across a slew of posts online, he wrote racist memes and discussions on 4chan that inspired him to specifically target black people for deadly violence. Eleven of the victims of the Buffalo shooting were black. The May 14 events have been called a “hate crime” and “an act of racially motivated violent extremism” by Attorney General Merrick Garland and are under investigation by the Justice Department. The defendant, who chooses not to name Engadget so as not to add further to the disgrace he seemed to seek, pleads not guilty to first-degree murder.
“These social media platforms have enormous reach, especially among young people, and have shown themselves to be a platform for hateful and extremist content that can radicalize children and others,” said Acting AG Platkin. “New Jersey has a significant interest in investigating how these companies moderate and ban content that could harm consumers. New Jersey law requires companies to keep their promises, and the continued violent extremism and hateful behavior on these platforms casts doubt on their alleged content moderation and enforcement policies and practices.
In a blog post, Discord revealed that the alleged gunman kept a journal of his plans on a private server on the platform. About half an hour before the attack, he shared an invitation with the server “within a small number of other private servers and direct messages”. A total of 15 users clicked on its invitation, according to the company. The suspect also live-streamed the attack on Twitch using a Go-Pro camera attached to a helmet. Twitch removed the original live stream two minutes after it was posted, with approximately 22 viewers watching at the time of broadcast. However, copies of the images continued to circulate on various social media platforms.
A Discord spokesperson said the company plans to cooperate with the New Jersey Attorney General’s investigation. Engadget has also reached out to Twitch for comment, which has not yet elicited a response at the time of publishing.
It is unclear whether New York and New Jersey will coordinate their investigations. (Engadget has contacted the New Jersey Attorney General’s office and will update if we receive a response.) While New York is under state executive laws permitting investigations into “public peace matters, public safety and public justice,” New Jersey uses the state’s Consumer Fraud Act instead. “Companies can’t advertise that they will do one thing and then another,” said Cari Fais, acting director of the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs. “If these platforms indicate that they will proactively moderate or ban violent extremism and hatred, and then allow it to flourish unchecked with potentially harmful or even deadly consequences, it is illegal.”
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