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How responsible are social media platforms for the radicalization of mass shooters?

From Club Q to the massacre at the Tops grocery store, investigations in those respective cases reveal a pattern of shooters viewing and spreading hate speech across social media.
Posted at 8:59 AM, Apr 25, 2024

In March, a New York judge denied a motion to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit against several social media companies that was brought forward by families of those killed in the Buffalo, New York, grocery store mass shooting.

The families allege companies like Meta and Reddit profit off of and indirectly encourage extremist and violent content on their platforms.

“It's honestly not surprising,” said Ashtin Gamblin, a survivor of the Club Q mass shooting in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “I think that honestly comes almost hand in hand at this point. The internet is also the perfect place to find those groups and know that you're not alone in that.”

In November 2022, five people were shot and killed at Club Q, an LGBTQ+ nightclub. Detective Rebecca Joines, who led the investigation, said the shooter posted four videos before entering the nightclub.

Joines described one video as a mass shooting training video for neo-Nazi white supremacists. The video also featured clips of other mass shootings as well as an image of a rifle scope edited onto footage of a gay pride parade, according to court documents. The shooter reportedly shared it with another person on the app Discord.

“We might post something to connect with people, and people posting hateful content are doing the same thing,” said Emily Hemendinger, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Hemendinger said people usually engage in the hateful and dark side of social media for a few different reasons. One is that people experiencing a lot of hate in their lives may express their own hate online. It’s human nature to seek validation from others, no matter how hateful your beliefs are.

“The other piece is, like, people who troll, right? Like, it seems really odd,” Hemendinger said. “And some people just post hateful, terrible things for the fun of it.” 

From Club Q to the Lakewood shopping center shooting in Denver to the massacre at the Tops grocery store, investigations in those respective cases reveal a pattern of shooters viewing and spreading hate speech across social media platforms.

According to Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty , social media companies made about $11 billion in profit last year. He believes such companies need to be better community partners, especially when it comes to our youth.

“Social media companies have a role and a responsibility that has to be considered just as much as — if not more — than profit,” Dougherty said. “And they have a role in protecting people from radicalizing and causing harm to others and becoming inclined to actually engage in real violent acts.”

Gamblin is now in school, studying homeland security and crisis management. She said although it’s difficult, it’s important to tell her survival story in order to inspire change.

“I think a lot of these companies already have themselves set for accountability,” she said. “It's already in place, but nobody's done anything to actually hold them responsible.”

This story was originally published by Richard Butler at Scripps News Denver.