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Lawsuit Seeks To Hold Meta Accountable For Murder Of A Federal Guard

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A new lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is seeking to hold the company accountable for the May 2020 killing of a federal security guard. The suit alleges that Facebook connected the two individuals charged in the murder and provided them with an online space for hatching the plot.

Dave Patrick Underwood served as a security guard at a federal building and courthouse in Oakland, California. He was shot and killed by two men outside the federal building on 29 May 2020. Evidence tied the two men to the “boogaloo” anti-government movement. It is an extremist ideology seeking to overthrow the United States government by openly advocating for violence.

Investigations found that the prime accused, US Air Force sergeant Steven Carrillo, met his aide, Robert Alvin Justus Jr., on Facebook. The two individuals connected through a Facebook group page supporting the boogaloo movement and promoting violence against federal law enforcement officers. They had never met in person before the day of the drive-by shooting that took Mr. Underwood’s life.

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The victim’s surviving sister, Angela Underwood Jacobs, is now seeking to hold Meta accountable for facilitating their connection. If not for Facebook’s recommendation algorithm, the two individuals would have never met and planned her brother’s murder. “Their paths had no reason to cross outside of Facebook,” Ms. Jacobs argues.

“The shooting was not a random act of violence,” the lawsuit filed in the Alameda County Superior Court, California states. “It was the culmination of an extremist plot hatched and planned on Facebook by two men who Meta connected through Facebook’s groups infrastructure and its use of algorithms designed and intended to increase user engagement and, correspondingly, Meta’s profits.”

Meta says the claims are without legal basis

A Meta spokesperson has said that the claims of Facebook facilitating the plot for Mr. Underwood’s killing are “without legal basis”. The company pointed to its work on removing militarized social movements from the platform.

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“We’ve banned more than 1,000 militarized social movements from our platform and work closely with experts to address the broader issue of internet radicalization,” the Meta spokesperson said in a statement to The New York Times.

Facebook limited the spread of “boogaloo” groups on its platform stopping recommendations back in June 2020. It followed with another crackdown later that month, banning hundreds of accounts, groups, and pages relating to such violent networks. But those moves came after the fatal attack on Mr. Underwood.

However, more questions are raised about Facebook’s role in connecting such violent minds and facilitating the plot for violent activities. A group of Rohingya refugees last month sued the social network for amplifying hate speech, which led to a genocide in Myanmar.

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Meanwhile, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields social media companies such as Meta. This legislation protects them from liability for user posts on their platform. The latest lawsuit is another challenge to the 25-year-old law as lawmakers call on lifting it.