From David DePape to Payton Gendron: How big tech firms and social media act as catalysts for violence

Peyton Gendron reportedly used social media to plan, prepare and publicize the mass shooting while David DePape peddled vile conspiracy theories

From David DePape to Payton Gendron: How big tech firms and social media act as catalysts for violence
David DePape and Payton Gendron were both heavily involved in peddling spurious claims and vile conspiracy theories on social media that were encouraged by many (screenshot from Inside Edition/YouTube; Erie County DA)
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Social media has become a powerful tool for communication and as well as connection, but does it encourage the need to incite violence? As per Reliefweb, social media platforms now "occupy a central role in stigmatizing target groups, legitimizing violence and recruiting the killers." Deliberate misinformation, including false allegations and dehumanization of targeted groups, has been an enduring feature of conflict over the ages. However, in the age of social media, the process has accelerated to an unprecedented degree.

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David DePape, the 42-year-old man accused of attacking House speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband Paul with a hammer after breaking into their San Francisco home on October 28, maintained a blog, which no longer exists, containing hundreds of bizarre posts, focused on far-right conspiracy theories. Vice News reported that Frenly Frens blog, a reference to a term popular among the online far-right, included topics of "pedogate, great reset, voter fraud, da jewbs, and Covid.” Along with it, many of the tags referred to women, including actress Amber Heard. The blog also shared images of Hilary Clinton as a zombie.

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Buffalo shooting: White supremacist Payton Gendron was probed for making violent threats in school

David DePape who brutally attacked Paul Pelosi with a hammer claims he was on a 'suicide mission'

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In 2021, DePape reposted videos made by My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, that falsely alleged that the 2020 elections were stolen, per CNN. His other posts included transphobic images and links to websites claiming Covid vaccines were deadly. “The death rates being promoted are what ever ‘THEY’ want to be promoted as the death rate,” one of DePape's posts read. People who knew Depape said that he displayed disturbing behavior and looked like he was far away from real life, stated Forbes.

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On the other hand, Buffalo shooter Payton Gendron, who killed 10 people and wounded three others in a “racially motivated” mass shooting at Tops Supermarket on May 14, allegedly used online platforms to plan, prepare and publicize the mass shooting. A news release on October 18 stated, "During the course of the investigation, Office of the Attorney General obtained and reviewed external and internal content and policies of several of the online platforms used by the shooter. The report concludes that fringe online platforms, like 4chan, radicalized the shooter; livestreaming platforms, like Twitch, were weaponized to publicize and encourage copycat violent attacks; and a lack of oversight, transparency, and accountability of these platforms allowed hateful and extremist views to proliferate online, leading to radicalization and violence."

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Profits above safety

According to Blumenthal, “Big Tech has brazenly failed and betrayed its trust, putting profits above safety. Algorithms driven by eyeballs and dollars will no longer hold sway.” US Senator Marsha Blackburn reportedly said, "Protecting our kids and teens online is critically important, particularly since Covid increased our reliance on technology."

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Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 

According to EFF, Section 230 states, "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." Following Gendron's killing spree, the October news release mentioned that Attorney General Letitia James and Governor Kathy Hochul were recommending changes to Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act to increase accountability of online platforms and required companies to take reasonable steps to prevent unlawful violent criminal content from appearing on their platforms. 

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