New Everytown Report: Content on YouTube Provides Tactical Firearms Training Accessible to Extremists Like Buffalo Shooter
NEW YORK— Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund released a new research report today detailing how online spaces provided not only the extremist ideological motivation for the white supremacist mass shooter in Buffalo, but the tactical and technical know-how to carry out his attack. The new report examines how YouTube hosted, and continues to host, a virtual library of extensive firearm instructional videos accessible by extremists like the Buffalo shooter. The shooter, an 18-year old white supremacist, shot 13 people – ten fatally – inside Tops Friendly Market in an attack targeting Black people in the United States on May 14.
The analysis also highlights how YouTube is failing to enforce its own Community Guidelines with respect to guns. The report found and categorized over 200 videos readily accessible on YouTube that directly linked to gun sales or showed users how to manufacture their own gun or silencer, modify their gun to fire automatically, and even 3D print a gun. These kinds of videos, which collectively garnered over 40 million views, are clearly prohibited by YouTube’s own Community Guidelines. Everytown has already sent two letters to YouTube, one in December 2021 and another this past May, urging the company to take action on videos of extremist content and ghost guns. This new report also comes just weeks after a 21-year-old, who also had disturbing online history on YouTube, shot and killed seven people at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois.
To fully analyze the radicalization of the Buffalo shooter, Everytown partnered with Memetica, a threat intelligence firm, for this report. Memetica’s companion report, which can be viewed here, explores the intersectional relationship between firearms–related YouTube communities and 4chan’s /k/ weapons board, alongside an analysis of how gun culture played a role in the Buffalo shooter’s path to radicalization.
“For too long, companies like YouTube have given a platform to content that goes far beyond practical and safe firearms training for gun owners, and instead, provides instructional content to illegally modify weapons, build ghost guns, and train in offensive firearms tactics” said Justin Wagner, senior director of investigations at Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. “Social media companies must do their part to disarm hate and that starts with enforcing their own firearm guidelines on their platforms.”
“Our report is not intended to place direct blame on YouTube for the Buffalo shooter’s actions. However, the shooter’s YouTube consumption habits provide a unique opportunity to study the cross-platform radicalization of a single individual, as well as the far-right firearms community as a whole,” said Dr. Becs Rogers, strategic intelligence manager at Memetica. “The shooter relied on YouTube to teach him how to modify his rifle to accept variable capacity magazines, analyze body armor, determine how law enforcement would likely respond to his attack, and reinforce his extremist ideology. Deliberate moderation of this content would be a tangible step towards reducing its reach, particularly to minors, who are not even old enough to purchase a firearm.”
Additional report toplines include:
- According to his writings, the shooter’s path to radicalization began with his fascination with firearms, particularly on /k/, the 4chan board dedicated to weapons. He decided to carry out the attack with firearms because“[t]here are very few weapons that are easier to use, accessible, and effective at killing than firearms.”
- The shooter viewed YouTube, along with other online spaces, as his personal library of firearms and tactical information including dozens of different YouTube videos, some of which deal specifically with firearms.
- The firearms-related videos the shooter cited in his writings were largely congruous with the firearms-related videos posted by the average /k/ user. The videos he cited fall into the categories of: firearms, tactics, equipment, and ideology and culture and was generally consistent with the breakdown of videos posted on /k/ during the same period.
- All of the most shared channels in these YouTube circles have a consistent host or central “character” that are similar in that the individual(s) who present the content have military experience in combat arms roles, and often served in “elite” military units that specialize in small arms combat engagements. They are all white American men, with decades of collective experience in the firearms industry, either through their YouTube channels or working as instructors or consultants with firearms manufacturers, after having already served in the United States military.
Recommendations to YouTube to improve safety include:
- Enforcing existing Community Guidelines with respect to guns.
- Placing age restrictions on firearms content on its platform.
- Clarifying the Community Guidelines to make clear that videos showing how to modify a weapon to increase its rate of fire, evade a state or federal regulation, or otherwise make the weapon more dangerous, are not permitted on the platform.
- Amending its Community Guidelines to ban content related to body armor.
- Amending the Community Guidelines to ban content that goes beyond practical defense training and instead provides tactical live-fire instructions on how to inflict the most damage.
- Proactively watching known spaces where radicalization takes place, like 4chan, for how YouTube weapons content is being shared and promoted.
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