May 19, 2022

Durbin Presses Social Media Platforms on their Roles in Promoting Extremist Content

In two letters to the CEOs of Discord and Twitch, Durbin details how the Buffalo gunman used the streaming platforms to plan and promote his shooting spree and expresses concern about the role the platforms play in disseminating extremist content

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is pressing Discord and Twitch about the role the platforms play in disseminating extremist content, asking how they are addressing such content and requesting relevant documents.  In two letters sent to Discord Co-Founder and CEO Jason Citron and Twitch Co-Founder and CEO Emmett Shear, respectively, Durbin requests information regarding both platforms’ actions to identify and remove content that broadcasts or promotes domestic terrorism, violent extremism, or hate crimes, as well as any efforts to address the use of its platform by those who perpetrate such acts.

Today’s letters cite last weekend’s mass shooting in Buffalo, NY, which the gunman reportedly planned and attempted to amplify using multiple social media platforms.  On Discord, he posted a 180-page manifesto referencing the racist “Great Replacement Theory,” as well as other details of his plans in the months leading up to the attack, and shared these plans with other Discord users 30 minutes before he carried out the attack.  He then livestreamed a video of the attack on Twitch, which removed the video shortly after the violence began, but not before it spread widely on other social media platforms, where it remains accessible.

“This past weekend in Buffalo, New York, a gunman committed a horrific and premediated act of hate-fueled domestic terrorism that killed ten and injured three more,” Durbin wrote in a letter to Discord’s Jason Citron.  “For months leading up to this attack, the perpetrator reportedly used a private, invite-only Discord server to detail his plan to attack the Tops grocery store, complete with hand-drawn maps of the store and photographs of himself with the weapons used to carry out the shooting.  Thirty minutes prior to his attack, he invited a small group to the server, but none of those invitees nor Discord itself appear to have alerted law enforcement before the attack.”

This is not the first time Discord has been used to plan, organize, or publicize domestic violent extremist activities.  In 2017, white nationalists spent months using Discord to organize the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia—another event motivated by the “Great Replacement Theory.”  Further, in 2018, it was reported that the white-supremacist group Identity Evropa, which played a central role in organizing the Unite the Right rally, used a Discord server to recruit college students and target political candidates and other government officials, including active members of the U.S. armed forces.

Similarly, this is not the first time Twitch has been used to disseminate video or livestreams of white supremacist terror attacks.  In March 2019, another gunman motivated by the “Great Replacement Theory” killed 51 and injured 40 others in a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which he livestreamed. This video was subsequently shared via Twitch in a coordinated bot attack.  Just six months later, on Yom Kippur, a Holocaust denier used Twitch to livestream his terrorist attack on a Halle, Germany synagogue and passersby.  The Buffalo shooter cited both the Christchurch and the Halle attacks as inspiration.

“Law enforcement and other experts have warned that Twitch is an attractive platform for extremists given its comparatively lax content monitoring and enforcement practices, particularly as more mainstream apps take steps to de-platform extremist content,” Durbin wrote in a letter to Twitch’s Emmett Shear.  “[G]iven the continued role of Twitch and other social media platforms in facilitating the proliferation of violent extremism, it is crucial that Congress better understand what Twitch is doing to address efforts by violent extremists to use its platform recruit, organize, and amplify violence and the threat of violence.”

Today’s letters follow a string of efforts Durbin has led in the Senate to hold social media platforms accountable for their role in combatting extremist efforts.  In February 2021, in a resolution denouncing the pervasive threat of domestic terrorism and white supremacy, Durbin and Senate Democrats called on the FBI and intelligence community to immediately review the threat posed by domestic terrorist groups, including their use of social media and other forms of communication to recruit new members to organize and plan acts of violence.  Two months later, during a Judiciary Committee subcommittee hearing, Durbin called on social media companies to take real action to address the abuse and misuse of their platforms—citing the lead up to the January 6, 2021 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.

Full text of the letter to Discord CEO Jason Citron is available here.

Full text of the letter to Twitch CEO Emmett Shear is available here.

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