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Footage of Buffalo Attack Spread Quickly Across Platforms, Has Been Online for Days

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 Photo credit: AP

The livestream of the accused Buffalo shooter’s  deadly May 14, 2022, attack at a Buffalo supermarket was available briefly via Twitch, but the footage spread quickly across online platforms, and remains online for public consumption.

Five full days after the shooting rampage, the ADL Center on Extremism (COE) was able to find the footage on platforms as diverse as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Telegram, Bitchute and Gab. Framing and characterization of the videos varied widely between platforms and users, and although many posters did not use the footage to explicitly promote or applaud extremist beliefs, the proliferation of this extremist violent content creates a dangerous online environment, normalizes violence, and has the potential to inspire future violence. Sharing this violent footage debases the memory of the victims.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and YouTube

The most common iteration of footage is video directly uploaded to the platform itself. These videos and video excerpts, often accompanied by some form of commentary from the poster, were found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and Telegram. In some cases, the post includes language critical of the shooter, but this does little to mitigate the potential damage caused by the video itself and creates opportunity for others to use the content for nefarious purposes.

Footage of the attack has also been indirectly distributed across platforms via posts with links to websites hosting the video clips.  The COE has found that these indirect social media posts can be used to promote hate and disinformation on mainstream platforms without directly violating that platform’s content policies.

Instances in which users shared links to other websites containing the attack footage were found on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Reddit. For example:

  • A YouTube video was uploaded that directed users to a Bitchute video.
  • Several posts across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Reddit claimed users could watch footage of the incident by clicking on their link, following their private account or emailing a personal email address.

Content on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provided direct footage of the incident. Several posts highlighted aspects of the shooting, like how the shooter appeared to spare the life of a man because he was white. 

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In response to the spread of the Buffalo shooter’s video of his attack across social media, The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) activated their content incident protocol a few hours after the attack. This protocol was put in place after the livestreamed video of extremist mass murder in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019 spread far and wide across all social platforms. The protocol ostensibly provides technical methods for member tech companies to share information in order to better recognize and remove content related to specific livestreamed videos of mass murders by extremists. The GIFCT reported that between the attack on May 14 and the evening of May 15 member tech companies added 740 visually distinct images and 130 visually distinct videos of the shooting footage to their shared database. Even so, the fact that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are all members of the GIFCT and yet our researchers were still able to easily find videos of the shooting five days after the event is extremely concerning.

Telegram

COE found the most egregious content on Telegram; posts on the encrypted messaging platform contained the shooter’s video and manifesto.  Posts frequently included racism, antisemitism, messages of support for the shooter’s actions or speculation that the shooting was a false flag operation. Some examples include:

  • In addition to sharing the livestream footage, one post suggests that the video is fake while also encouraging others to “save it and spread it.” Another post sharing a screen shot reads, “SLOPPY JOB MOSSAD."
  • One post shared a footage from the shooting and added text to the video that read “Haily Holy F*cking Terror.” Aside from the footage, the post also included the message “Let the pressure mount and you will be rewarded with a volcanic eruption of retributive violence.”
  • One channel shared an infographic describing the incident and providing details of the alleged shooter, referring to him as “Saint Gendron.”

Bitchute, Odysee, Rumble

Content found on these video sharing platforms often or mostly focused on “false flag” conspiracy theories, which suggested that the deadly shooting was staged for the benefit of certain federal agencies and political parties. Some examples include:

  • QAnon influencer Jordan Sather discusses the Buffalo shooting and suggests that the incident was conducted by a federal sleeper cell. “Probably the same freaking CIA sleeper cell, right? The same sleeper cell conducting these false flag shootings. Makes a hell of a lot more sense than anything else.
  • White supremacist Vincent James similarly suggested that the shooting was conducted by federal agencies, writing, “I don't believe that the manifesto was his. Have we seen any proof that he wrote this manifesto? And how lazily done was this manifesto? How lazily did the feds rush this manifesto out after they groomed, lit- basically literally groomed this 18-year-old autistic kid into committing this attack. Probably like they did with the Governor Whitmer kidnapping plot?”
  • Multiple videos containing footage from the livestream and commentary that described the “fake” elements of the shooting. Some videos included claims that the shooter was Jewish or part of a “classic Zionist gun grab operation.”
    Buffalo

Gab, Gettr, MeWe

Content found on these social media platforms tended to focus on conspiracy theories, some of which argued the shooter is a leftist, despite overwhelming evidence that the shooter was influenced by right-wing white supremacists as well was white supremacist phrases and memes. Other conspiracy theories include:

  • Users suggesting that the timing of the mass shooting was not a coincidence and connected to an ongoing effort to ban weapons in the United States.
  • Several Gettr posts falsely claiming the shooter was “deep into communist ideology” and that he describes himself as an “authoritarian left-wing" eco-fascist.
  • Posts from MeWe and Gettr suggesting that the mass shooting took place in order to distract the public from Hunter Biden’s emails.
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