FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Family: Holding Facebook Responsible for Profit-Driven Promotion of Extremist Content Could Help Prevent Future Violence
Case Highlights Reasons Facebook’s Conduct Isn’t Protected by Section 230
ALAMEDA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA – A groundbreaking wrongful death lawsuit filed today against Meta Platforms, Inc., formerly Facebook, Inc., alleges that by connecting users to extremist groups and promoting inflammatory, divisive and untrue content, the company bears responsibility for the tragic murder of a federal security officer on May 29, 2020.
In May 2020, Department of Homeland Security Officer Dave Patrick Underwood was killed in a drive-by shooting while providing security at a federal courthouse during a rally to protest the killing of George Floyd. According to documents filed in federal criminal proceedings, the FBI’s investigation revealed that the shooter, Steven Carrillo, and his accomplice met online through a Facebook group centered on the boogaloo movement, which advocates targeted violence against federal officers. Facebook had previously acknowledged the need to ban the dangerous network from its platform but reportedly did not remove the majority of the boogaloo groups.
The lawsuit filed today by Officer Underwood’s sister alleges that Facebook, beyond merely allowing the groups to remain on its platform, employed its proprietary algorithms to actively recruit members for such groups and promote dangerous content to users, ignoring the foreseeable risk that it would lead to violence, in order to maximize the company’s profits. As alleged in the lawsuit, this promotion of extremist activity was a substantial factor in causing Officer Underwood’s death.
Angela Underwood Jacobs filed the case in Alameda County State Court in California. She is represented by nationally prominent complex litigation firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC.
“Facebook bears responsibility for the murder of my brother. As the lawsuit alleges, Facebook knowingly promoted inflammatory and violent content and connected extremists who plotted and carried out the killing of my brother,” said Angela Underwood Jacobs, the sister of slain officer Dave Patrick Underwood. “Facebook must be held responsible for the harm it has caused not just my family, but so many others, by promoting extremist content and building extremist groups on its platform.”
“As confirmed in October 2021 by a brave whistleblower’s Congressional testimony, Facebook has for years knowingly encouraged and promoted extremist content and steered its users to extremist groups, which, as this case details, led directly to the killing of Officer Dave Patrick Underwood. 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. It is time that Facebook is finally held accountable for its actions,” said Ted Leopold, Partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.
Ms. Underwood’s lawyers anticipate that Facebook will seek to cloak its conduct in the immunity provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which became law in 1996 and was ostensibly designed to encourage the development of the Internet. Since then, Section 230 has shielded tech giants from accountability for illegal activities organized on social media platforms. Public disclosures in late 2021 revealed Facebook’s inner-workings and show Facebook’s active role in shaping the content on its website as well as creating and building groups on the platform – activities that fall outside of the conduct protected by Section 230.
The lawsuit alleges that Facebook’s algorithms promote inflammatory content and extremist groups as a way to engage users and keep them active, which in turn drives ad sales and revenue. In recent years, the company has focused on increasing membership in groups through advertising campaigns and developing tools and support services for the administrators and moderators of Facebook groups. This wrongful death filing alleges that Facebook is aware of — but knowingly failed to warn users about — the role its algorithms play in boosting extremist content and the impact that online content and groups have in increasing extremism and the type of open violence for which they advocate.
For example, in April 2020 and as cited in today’s filing, the Tech Transparency Project reported that “online extremists are using Facebook to plan and organize a militant uprising in the United States.” Despite these warnings, the filing alleges that Facebook has repeatedly failed to crack down on the use of its platform for this activity. In fact, the Facebook allegedly continued to recommend such groups to its users through its “related pages” and “suggested groups” functions.
According to the criminal complaints filed by the United States Department of Justice, Carrillo, and his accomplice, Robert Alvin Justus, Jr., are allegedly boogaloo adherents who capitalized on racial justice protests following the murder of George Floyd. On May 28, 2020, the two men allegedly connected through a Facebook boogaloo group page when Carrillo, an active sergeant in the United States Air Force, posted a YouTube video to the group showing a large crowd violently attacking two California Highway Patrol vehicles, writing: “It’s on our coast now, this needs to be nationwide. It’s a great opportunity to target specialty soup bois [a known term for federal law enforcement officers]. Keep that energy going.” Justus allegedly responded to that post in agreement: “Let’s boogie.”
In its criminal complaints, the Department of Justice (DOJ) alleged that Carrillo and Justus agreed to meet on May 29 and drive together to the Oakland protests. There, extremist boogaloo views led to real-world violence. The criminal complaints alleged that Carrillo and Justus drove by the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Oakland where Underwood was standing guard, at which point Carrillo fired multiple rounds with a homemade assault rifle. Carrillo and Justus allegedly fled the scene. The DOJ further alleges that Carrillo went on to kill Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, a Santa Cruz County deputy sheriff, before being arrested. Carrillo and Justus are currently awaiting trial.
After the murder of Officer Underwood and other alleged acts of violence by members of the boogaloo movement, Facebook publicly announced that it would stop recommending boogaloo-related pages via its algorithms. Despite this public pledge though, today’s Complaint alleges that Facebook continued to do so.
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