Meta sued for alleged role in extremist-linked murder of federal guard

The surviving sister of Dave Patrick Underwood, a federal security guard who was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2020, has filed a lawsuit against Meta, the parent organization of Facebook. The suit seeks to hold the company accountable for connecting the two men charged in the murder plot and giving them a space online to plan the attack.

Underwood was shot outside a federal building in Oakland, California in May of 2020. The two men charged inn the case were later linked to so-called “boogaloo” anti-government movement, which Facebook banned from its platform in June of 2020 citing the group’s history of “actively promoting violence against civilians, law enforcement and government officials and institutions.” 

“The shooting was not a random act of violence,” the lawsuit 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.” The lawsuit alleges the two men would never have met if not for Facebook’s recommendations, which pushed them both to join groups that “openly advocated for violence.”

A spokesperson for Meta said in a statement to The New York Times that the “claims are without legal basis,” and pointed to the company’s work “militarized social movements.”

The lawsuit is hardly the first time Meta has been implicated over its role in fueling extremism and violence. Facebook’s own researchers warned that group recommendations were pushing users in 2016, according to internal company documents first reported by The Wall Street Journal. And documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen have about Facebook’s role in inciting violence around the world. Meta was also by a group of Rohingya refugees over Facebook’s role in amplifying hate speech that incited a genocide in the country.

In a statement to ABC, Ted Leopold, who is representing Underwood’s sister, referenced Haugen’s disclosures about Facebook. “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.

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