Families of Buffalo Supermarket Shooting Victims Point to Algorithms and Negligence Leading to Anti-Black Violence
On July 12th, families of victims of the 2022 mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket filed a civil lawsuit against Amazon, Google, Meta, and several other tech corporations, alleging that these companies’ algorithms, systems, and business practices help fuel real-world violence. The plaintiffs seek accountability and justice, and experts say that social media is the latest iteration of an umbrella of “media harm” that has existed in the United States for centuries, allowing fringe ideologies to reach the mainstream — and sometimes leading to disenfranchisement and outright violence.
The filing of this lawsuit is a stark reminder of media and tech companies’ long-standing history of perpetuating anti-Black violence. A 2009 Google search of the term “Black girls” yielded startling results of material that objectified and demeaned Black girls despite the absence of those explicit terms in the queries. A 2022 University of California Davis study found that recommendation algorithms on platforms like TikTok and YouTube could lead to violent political behavior by trapping users in a loop of biased and increasingly extreme content. These findings also revealed how marginalized communities are excluded from artificial intelligence.
“Social-media platforms are just the latest iteration of a long history of media and technology corporations taking part in the cycle of anti-Black violence,” said Diamond Hardiman, reparative journalism manager with the Media 2070 project.
“From profiting off of slave ads in the earliest days of U.S. media to incentivizing voter suppression via social-media advertising today, our nation’s media system has always inflicted harm on Black communities. Tech corporations must participate in processes of repair for the ways they prop up and profit from keeping a white-racial hierarchy alive in our society — a violent hierarchy that endangers Black people and other people of color every day.”
Media 2070, an advocacy project committed to building equitable newsrooms, has a 100-page essay that traces more than two centuries of harmful media practices that have harmed Black communities, as exemplified by the Buffalo mass shooting. The essay also highlights the risks associated with relying on social media as a source of news and information, a dependence that is particularly harmful to marginalized groups who are frequently the target or subject of disinformation campaigns.