Elmore says the goal is to force reform.
“We can’t bring the victims of this lawsuit back, but we can make sure that no other families have to file this kind of lawsuit,” he says. No families deserve to be members of this unenviable club, Elmore says.
The lawsuit essentially takes aim at the full journey that brought Gendron from being a regular American teen to becoming a violent white supremacist—one equipped with the means and intention of massacring as many Black people as possible. They point to platforms like Facebook and Snapchat as the first part of that process.
“Gendron’s radicalization on social media was neither a coincidence nor an accident,” the complaint alleges. “It was the foreseeable consequence of the defendant social media companies’ conscious decision to design, program, and operate platforms and tools that maximize user engagement (and corresponding advertising revenue) at the expense of public safety.”
The lawsuit claims that the white supremacist ideology that captured Gendron, particularly the “great replacement theory”—which imagines an international plot to weaken the political power of white people—is a “product of social media.” While it may have been conjured up by a French author and promoted by hardened neo-Nazis, the lawsuit claims that “replacement theory proponents rely heavily on social media—and the tools and features the Social Media Defendants utilize to increase their own engagement—to promote racist ideology to young and impressionable adherents.”
Exposure to this kind of hate propaganda as a teenager, mixed with the addictive nature of social media, fundamentally altered Grendron’s brain chemistry, Elmore argues in his filings.
Social media platforms maximized user engagement “not by showing them content they request or want to see, but rather, by showing them and otherwise recommending content from which they cannot look away,” the complaint continues. “Taking full advantage of the incomplete development of Gendron’s frontal lobe, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat maintained his product engagement by targeting him with increasingly extreme and violent content and connections which, upon information and belief, promoted racism, antisemitism, and gun violence.”
This is not a bug, Elmore argues. “These products were functioning as designed and intended.”
These platforms pointed Gendron to the next step in his radicalization: 4chan.
While there is no algorithm on the notorious image board, there was a waiting “community of fellow racists urging him to move forward,” the lawsuit alleges. What’s more, Gendron was a frequent user of /k/, the weapons board. That community, and similar ones on Discord, helped him prepare for the attack and increase his chances of succeeding.
The lawsuit singles out 4chan financial backer Good Smile, a major Japanese toy company that in 2015 invested $2.4 million for a 30 percent share in the site, according to documents Startup obtained. Pointing to reporting from Startup and a lawsuit filed by former employees of the company, the families allege that Good Smile’s role in 4chan “is not that of a passive investor but is actively involved in the management of the social media site.”
In a statement from April, Good Smile denied Startup’s reporting, insisting, “We do not have a partnership with 4chan, never had influence over the management and/or control of 4chan.” In the same statement, however, Good Smile also says, “We severed any limited relationship we previously had with 4chan in June of 2022. Since then, we have not had any relationship with 4chan.” The company has cited “confidentiality obligations” preventing it from commenting on the matter and has ignored multiple requests for comment.