Horrifying news emerged from America over the past weekend after an 18-year-old white male, named Peyton Gendron, shot and killed ten people, while also wounding three others in the New York city of Buffalo on May 14.
It was a racially motivated attack, designed to target black US citizens in an area with a higher percentage of people from that racial background. It will be mostly likely be referred to for the most part as a ‘shooting incident’, but it’s only right to call it what it was… a domestic act of terror.
The shooter, whose online handle was apparently ‘jimboboiii’, was arrested at the scene of the terrifying attack live streamed the mass shooting in its entirety on the popular game streaming platform, Twitch, something that was later confirmed by the Amazon-owned company.
Not only did the shooter livestream the awful incident as it unfolded, he had clearly been planning such an attack for a substantial period of time and had also broadcast his plans on a private Discord chat server, where he went into great detail about his aims.
Discord is a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and instant messaging platform, where anyone can create an account and communicate with people in private chats or as parts of communities called ‘servers’.
What is concerning though is that we are seeing these live streamed incidents happening with alarming frequency in recent years, whether that was from the horrors of the Christchurch New Zealand mosque terror attacks or 2021’s mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado. These are not the only incidents that have been broadcast live.
With the immediate access to information and proliferation of technology, people now have so much more access to content in general as well as plenty of questionable and just absolutely wrong content too.
But it’s impossible to ignore that there are so many different mediums from which to share content, which can be just as easily used as a platform to share terror and fear.
The shooter cited the controversial forum 4chan as one of the sources of his radicalisation. It is the place where he did much of his research, in his online manifesto it is also where he mused on ‘The Great Replacement Theory’, a false narrative about the white population being depleted and being overrun by immigrants and other races — Gedron had made it clear that it was a partial reason for the attack. That and the Christchurch New Zealand mosque shooter were also referenced as a source of radicalisation.
According to the New York Times, Discord had commented that it was both investigating the posts Gendron had supposedly made on the private server before the shooting occurred, and that it was cooperating with law enforcement officials on the matter.
Like the Christchurch massacre which took place in 2019, the Buffalo mass shooting was also streamed online. In this case it was on the popular video game streaming platform Twitch. His livestream of the incident lasted for over two-minutes before the account was suspended.
A Twitch spokesperson told media outlets that the streaming service “has a zero-tolerance policy against violence of any kind and works swiftly to respond to all incidents.”
More worryingly was that Gendron had been planning this over the last two years on Discord, in a private server. Discord is more commonly used in the gaming community as a platform for discussing games, games chat management for use in games and as a forum of sorts.
Screenshots of the shooter’s supposed Discord comments have been shared across social media, which although they have not been confirmed to be real, also show someone with the the shooter's username going into great detail over his plans, long before the shooting happened.
To its credit Discord has in the past been remarkably open about the extent of extremism on the platform. Outlining the steps that it has been taking to remove content and private servers that are related to ‘violent extremism’ — noting a 93% increase in such content over the course of the year in 2020. Perhaps indicative of a wider issue online, which will not surprise many of us.
Much of the work by these social media giants now will be about scrubbing every link to the shooter from their platforms, presenting any evidence to the authorities along the way.
But what does this horrific incident have to do with us, in particular Sheffield? It kind of ‘does’ and it ‘doesn’t’, thankfully not yet.
In the US, it is considerably easier to get your hands on a gun than it is here in the UK. However, the fact remains that this young man was radicalised by content he had seen online across multiple platforms and in doing so planned an appalling attack pretty much in the open. There’s no escaping the rise in gun-related incidents in the UK.
We all have access to those same platforms, and while their intended use is for entertainment or to connect with like-minded people on similar topics.
The far-right and other dubious characters have managed to seamlessly embed themselves within numerous online communities.
Many of us and our children use these kinds of platforms to find out about all manner of things, innocently. Without any intention of committing any crimes. It all comes down to how we moderate and oversee the things that our kids/close family are subject to, just in case.
It’s amazing to have access to the types of technology that allow us to reach all manner of people across the globe, but with great reach comes a greater responsibility. For us as the users, we need to report and flag content which is concerning like this so that the necessary steps can be taken to stop something like this happening again.
It also goes without saying that people use those platforms for their specified purpose, at least this is the case in most situations.
Perhaps social media and live broadcasting platforms will need to perhaps consider initialising a broadcast delay of sorts for live video content like this to ensure the spread of such shocking content is given less of a chance to be broadcast. Perhaps they will look into some form of online identification verification as a means of monitoring users, which won’t go down well with those concerned about privacy, GDPR and the use of their personal data.
After an incident like this, yet again, we will probably criticise those platforms who are trying to mitigate the widespread access to such horrendous thoughts, musings and imagery. We will want to see significant change occur once again, at least for a little while… and then we won’t think about it any more as we carry on with life. Until the next time.