Uvalde families sue Instagram and Call of Duty maker over deadly school attack

<span>Families of the victims of the Uvalde shooting at a news conference on Wednesday.</span><span>Photograph: Eric Gay/AP</span>
Families of the victims of the Uvalde shooting at a news conference on Wednesday.Photograph: Eric Gay/AP

Families of children who were killed in the 2022 Uvalde mass shooting have filed wrongful death lawsuits accusing Instagram, game maker Activision and weapons manufacturer Daniel Defense of enabling the massacre.

The suits were filed on the second anniversary of the school shooting, in which 19 children and two teachers were killed, and accuse the “unholy trinity” of Instagram, Call of Duty, and Daniel Defense of “working together to convert alienated teenage boys into mass shooters”.

“There is a direct line between the conduct of these companies and the Uvalde shooting,” said Josh Koskoff, a partner at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder and an attorney for the families.

Related: Uvalde school district police chief resigns a year after stepping into job

Koskoff has represented families of mass shooting victims in the past, including a case in 2022 against gun manufacturer Remington over the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, which resulted in a $73m settlement.

The new cases were filed on behalf of 27 plaintiffs in California – where Meta and Activision are headquartered – and Texas, where they say the alleged misconduct took place. Complaints detail how the Uvalde shooter, who was killed by police, became obsessed with weapons and purchased an AR-15 manufactured by Daniel Defense just 23 minutes after midnight on his 18th birthday.

“Why? Because, well before he was old enough to purchase it, [and] he was targeted and cultivated online by Instagram, Activision and Daniel Defense,” Koskoff said. “This three-headed monster knowingly exposed him to the weapon, conditioned him to see it as a tool to solve his problems, and trained him to use it.”

The suits allege the shooter downloaded the most recent version of Call of Duty in November 2021, but had been playing the mobile version of the game since he was 15. They allege that through these games, Activision is “training and habituating kids to kill”, noting that the gun used in the shooting was offered in the game.

The shooter was, meanwhile, “courted” by gun companies on Instagram through “explicit, aggressive marketing”, the suit alleges. Although Meta’s official advertising policy prohibits the promotion and sale of weapons, ammunition or explosives, studies have shown loopholes still allow gun makers to reach users. Meta did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson from Activision called the Uvalde shooting “horrendous and heartbreaking in every way”, but added that “millions of people around the world enjoy video games without turning to horrific acts”.

The Entertainment Software Association, a trade group for video-game makers, said it is “saddened and outraged by senseless acts of violence”.

“At the same time, we discourage baseless accusations linking these tragedies to video gameplay, which detract from efforts to focus on the root issues in question and safeguard against future tragedies,” the group said in a statement. “Many other countries have similar rates of video gameplay to the United States, yet do not see similar rates of gun violence.”

The cases represent the some of the most substantial thus far against social media and gaming firms over mass shootings, and could face significant freedom of speech hurdles in court. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields tech firms from responsibility for what content is hosted on their platforms, though that law is currently under attack in Congress.