How YouTube Can Combat Armed Extremism on its Platform
On May 14, 2022, a gunman killed 10 Black people and wounded three others at the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York. The shooter had targeted a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo when gun extremism merged with his growing white supremacist beliefs.
According to his own writings, the Buffalo shooter faced a challenge in planning his attack: He didn’t quite know how to do it. That’s where online gun communities came in, including on YouTube. He found videos that helped him learn tactical combat techniques and even how to evade gun safety laws.
Tell YouTube to take action today and improve the safety of its platform.
YouTube can take these steps to make its platform safer.
Enforce existing Community Guidelines related to firearms content.
YouTube needs to put more resources into content moderation for its firearms content. This should start with the active enforcement of its Community Guidelines. The content moderation should also be proactive—it should not be overly reliant on users reporting the videos.
Place age restrictions on firearms content on its platform.
YouTube places age restrictions on videos when they are deemed inappropriate for viewers under 18. This includes content showing dangerous activities that young people could easily imitate and behavior that could lead to serious injury or death. A significant amount of firearms content on YouTube would fit that description, including videos viewed by the Buffalo shooter. Yet, age restrictions aren’t always placed on these videos. YouTube should review its policies to place age restrictions on firearms content that is not appropriate for minors.
Clarify Community Guidelines to make clear that videos showing how to make a weapon more dangerous are not permitted.
YouTube videos viewed by the Buffalo shooter allowed him to make his weapon more lethal. Through this content, he learned how to convert his firearm into an illegal assault weapon with removable, large-capacity magazines. YouTube’s current Community Guidelines are arguably unclear on some of this type of content. It’s time for YouTube to make it clear that such videos have no place on their platform.
Amend Community Guidelines to ban content on how to inflict the most damage.
The Buffalo shooter watched videos showing him how to win a firefight, shoot through bulletproof glass, and assemble a body armor kit. These types of activities are generally the realm of law enforcement and the military, and are not common needs for civilians. YouTube should amend its Community Guidelines to ban videos promoting body armor and tactical military advice. Or, at the very least, such content should be age-restricted.
Proactively watch known spaces where radicalization takes place.
The Buffalo shooter’s path to radicalization began with his fascination with firearms. He was especially influenced by the 4chan board dedicated to weapons, which features a toxic mix of discussions of firearms alongside racism and other forms of violent extremist ideology. YouTube needs to proactively monitor spaces like these to see how users are discussing and sharing YouTube weapons content.
Every day, more than 110 Americans are killed with guns.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death. A yearly average was developed using five years of the most recent available data: 2016 to 2020. Everytown For Gun Safety Support Fund