New York elected officials recommended a package of large-scale changes to state and federal laws for social media platforms they charge have helped fuel the spread of hate from the cyber world into the real one.
The changes endorsed in a report compiled by state Attorney General Letitia James and released jointly with Gov. Kathy Hochul come after a shooting at a Buffalo supermarket in a predominantly Black community that killed 10 people earlier this year.
James in a statement said she met with victims' families earlier in the day to discuss the report.
"The tragic shooting in Buffalo exposed the real dangers of unmoderated online platforms that have become breeding grounds for white supremacy," said Attorney General James. "Today I met with the victims' families to share the findings of this report. This report is further proof that online radicalization and extremism is a serious threat to our communities, especially communities of color. We saw this happen in Christchurch, Charlottesville, El Paso, and Buffalo, and we cannot wait for another tragedy before we take action. Online platforms should be held accountable for allowing hateful and dangerous content to spread on their platforms. Extremist content is flourishing online, and we must all work together to confront this crisis and protect our children and communities."
Law enforcement has said the alleged shooter in the case purposefully target Black people in the spree.
"For too long, hate and division have been spreading rampant on online platforms — and as we saw in my hometown of Buffalo, the consequences are devastating," Hochul said. "In the wake of the horrific white supremacist shooting this year, I issued a referral asking the Office of the Attorney General to study the role online platforms played in this massacre. This report offers a chilling account of factors that contributed to this incident and, importantly, a road map toward greater accountability."
The proposals would represent sweeping changes for social media companies with moderating content.
The changes being sought by the governor and attorney general would require action in both Albany as well as by members of Congress in Washington.
- Require liability for the creation and distribution of videos and homicides in New York over the Internet: The changes would include civil liability for anyone who transmits or distributes those videos.
- Restrict livestreaming, a tool that had been used by the alleged shooter in Buffalo: Platforms that provide livestreaming services would be subject o restrictions such as verification requirements and delays in order to avoid the broadcasting of violence before it can be widely disseminated.
- Change Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act: a measure that has given protections to social media and Internet platforms from liability for third-party content. The change would require an act of Congress.
- Stronger moderation and transparency rules: Online platforms would be required to strengthen their own content moderation rules and how those policies are applied to restrict hateful, extremist or racist content.
- Hosting companies would be required to do more to restrict violent or hateful content.
The report also examines how hate can spread rapidly online and help fuel violent acts, and James' office had obtained through subpoena thousands of pages of documents from sites used by the shooter, including 4chan, 8kun, Reddit, Discord, Twitch and YouTube.
The report's authors concluded fringe platforms online can help fuel radicalization and livestreaming has become a tool for mass shooters to publicize crimes. Moderation of content has been inconsistent. And often platforms lack accountability.
The tech industry is already raising concerns with the proposals, including the push to chane Section 230 -- a long-standing debate in Congress.
“The gun violence crisis in our country is horrifying, and lawmakers have let it go unaddressed for too long,” said Chamber of Progress CEO Adam Kovacevich. “Penalties for creating homicidal posts have the potential to slow the spread of violent content online. But the AG’s proposal to change Section 230 to prevent the spread of violent content misunderstands that Section 230 already protects and encourages content moderation. The best way to protect content moderation is to protect Section 230, not to gut it.”
The review of social media sites and other online platforms was first announced after state lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul separately agreed to a package of gun law changes.
Hochul signed into law tighter restrictions on firearms that included raising the age of possession for a semiautomatic from 18 years to 21 in New York following the shooting as well as an expansion of the red flag law.
Hochul has also sought to step up law enforcement and mental health counselors efforts to monitor online activity to guard against another attack.