The visceral and shocking scenes out of Buffalo took seconds to permeate social media and the national consciousness. From the second the planned execution of Black shoppers began in the Buffalo grocery store, it was available for public consumption.
What are the necessary conditions that allow this to keep happening over and over again? Is this all truly so far beyond repair?
The first condition that makes attacks such as Buffalo so attractive for a terrorist is the ability to livestream terrorism in the United States. This dramatically amplifies the names behind these gruesome acts. That a video of a woman’s head exploding the millisecond she was shot by the Buffalo terrorist was all over social media within seconds is so far from any notion of safety and democracy that it’s beyond words.
How this one act in itself doesn’t have the ability to shut down Twitch, the Justin Kan-founded (acquired by Amazon in 2014 for $970 million) should keep us up at night. It’s going to add fuel to the fire of what BigTech should and shouldn’t be allowed to do and the dramatically oversized role these companies play in our daily lives.
Another necessary condition for these kinds of attacks is the widespread availability of both doctrine and doctrinal inspiration. In other words, while self-styled political revolutionaries used to need to actually read a book or, well, read something, today we can just be passive and have talking heads (whether faux TV journalists or unqualified political leaders) just talk at us.
Mark Zohar, COO and President of the digital experience company Viafoura argues in a superb Twitter thread that “The terrorist attack in Buffalo is not an isolated act of racism and white supremacy — it is part of a pattern and plan of genocide that is implicitly endorsed by white nationalists like Tucker Carlson, Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene.”
This is an opportune moment to remind ourselves that social media can do a lot of good in the world, but it can help create cults of personality. Politicians have never ever had anywhere near the same access to the hearts and minds of the people that they have today. This creates celebrities out of dangerously influential political personalities and personas that comparatively few people would have known about before.
A third condition is obvious – the kinds of weapons that are so readily available in the United States. Within an hour after the attack, New York Governor Kathy Hochul stated that the weapon was legally acquired in Pennsylvania then easily modified in a manner that made the weapon illegal in New York.
The type of magazine used in the attack was the illegal modification, but how is a weapon like this still available for purchase? This isn’t a question that will be answered today but what happens if we stop asking it? Where does the sliding scale of weaponry that is far more lethal than the public needs ever end? We have to understand that, to people around the world, the United States’ seeming love of guns above love of their own people is no longer a bizarre anomaly but part of the fabric of how people understand the United States and its inhabitants.
Michael Epstein, a personal injury lawyer, observed, “There’s no practical reason for how easy it is to acquire a deadly weapon, modify it, and transport it across state lines so that the weapon that meets the standards of one state is illegal in the next. It really is just an invitation for people looking to kill and injure others to be strategic in a way that the system shouldn’t allow.“
It was over a year ago when New York’s former governor declared a statewide gun emergency. What was the result of the $139 million allocated to specifically address shootings in the state?
It’s a massive understatement to say that there are no easy solutions to all of this. But what is absolutely certain is that when a Saturday afternoon terrorist massacre in one of this country’s great cities simply becomes a social media streaming event consumed by an audience that could see all of this as a three-dimensional video game of sorts, we might think that things are broken to the point where we can never fix them.