Facebook sued over Boogaloo-linked killing of federal police officer

The wrongful-death lawsuit accuses Facebook of connecting the officer's alleged killer and his alleged accomplice in 2020 along with promoting extremism.

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Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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Queenie Wong
2 min read

Facebook has faced scrutiny for not doing enough to crack down on extremist groups.

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The sister of a slain federal security officer sued Facebook , which has renamed itself to Meta, accusing the social network of bearing responsibility for her brother's killing because the platform connected users of extremist groups and promoted inflammatory content.

In May 2020, Dave Patrick Underwood was killed in a drive-by shooting while guarding a federal building and courthouse in Oakland during protests over the police killing of George Floyd. The 53-year-old officer was a contractor with the Department of Homeland Security. Federal authorities say the suspected gunman, Steven Carrillo, had ties to the far-right anti-government extremist Boogaloo movement.

The lawsuit says that Facebook connected Carrillo, an Air Force sergeant, with Robert Alvin Justus Jr., who was charged with aiding and abetting the murder of Underwood. The social network recommended that Justus join Boogaloo-related groups, which led him to met Carrillo on the platform, the lawsuit says. Justus was allegedly driving the van when Carrillo fired gunshots through the open passenger-side sliding door on May 29, 2020. 

"The shooting was not a random act of violence. It was the culmination of 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 wrongful-death lawsuit, filed by Angela Underwood Jacobs in a California Superior Court, states.

Online platforms are shielded from liability for content posted by users under a federal law known as Section 230, but the lawsuit alleges those protections don't apply in this case. The lawsuit accuses Facebook of promoting extremist groups to keep users engaged on the site, helping to drive the company's ad sales. Jacobs is seeking damages in excess of $25,000 from Facebook.

Facebook spokesman Kevin McAlister said the claims made in the lawsuit are "without legal basis."

"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," he said.

In June 2020, Facebook banned the boogaloo movement, designating it as a dangerous organization.