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What just happened? Facebook parent company Meta is being sued by the sister of a federal security guard who was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2020. The suit claims that the social network was responsible for connecting the two individuals charged in the incident and helping them plan the attack.
Dave Patrick Underwood was shot and killed outside a federal building and courthouse in Oakland, California, in May 2020. His sister, Angela Underwood Jacobs, filed a complaint in Alameda County Superior Court that claims the shooting “was not a random act of violence” but a “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.”
The two men charged in the case were linked to the “boogaloo” anti-government movement that Facebook banned from its platform in June of 2020, reports Engadget. The ban stemmed from "actively promoting violence against civilians, law enforcement and government officials and institutions."
The suit will challenge the controversial Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 piece of legislation that says an interactive computer service can't be held liable for third-party content as it isn't the publisher of that material. Joe Biden said he wanted to revoke or rewrite Section 230 back at the start of 2020, and it was a major focus when Facebook, Twitter, and Google testified before Congress last year.
“Facebook bears responsibility for the murder of my brother,” Jacobs said in a statement. “Facebook knowingly promoted inflammatory and violent content and connected extremists who plotted and carried out the killing of my brother. Facebook must be held responsible for the harm it has caused not just my family, but so many others through its promotion of extremist content and by promoting algorithms to actively recruit members to its web platform.”
One of the claims made by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen (above) was that the platform knowingly encouraged and promoted extremist content, an accusation cited by Jacobs’ attorney, Ted Leopold.
“We believe and intend to show that Facebook’s conduct has led to a rise in extremism throughout the world and acts of real-world violence, including the murder of Officer Underwood,” Leopold said.
A Meta spokesperson told the The New York Times that the “claims are without legal basis,” and that it had “banned more than 1,000 militarized social movements.”
Facebook has spent years being accused of failing to remove extremist content that could incite violence. An Israeli minister called the company a “monster” in 2016 over claims it was partly to blame for the death of two 13-year-olds. More recently, Facebook was sued by Rohingya refugees for $150 billion over the Myanmar genocide, during which it allegedly allowed hate speech on the platform.