Meta, the new name for Facebook, is in the middle of a messy lawsuit over its alleged responsibility for the killing of a federal office in May of 2020. The federal security officer, Dave Patrick Underwood, was shot and killed while he was standing guard at an Oakland California federal courthouse. He held his position amid the rioting and protesting that was happening after the death of George Floyd.
The alleged shooter, in this case, was reportedly connected to a far-right anti-government group. The assailant was joined by a co-conspirator, and they have pleaded not guilty to charges in connection to the killing.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Dave Patrick Underwood was shot and killed by a man who had traveled to Oakland, California with an intent to kill federal agents. This is according to the case of the federal prosecutors.
Angela Underwood Jacobs, the sister of the shooting victim, is now suing Facebook in the California Superior Court. Jacobs made a statement to ABC News saying, “Facebook bears responsibility for the murder of my brother. 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.”
She went on to say that Facebook had aided and abetted this act of domestic terrorism and that no one is willing to hold Facebook accountable. She believes that this is wrong.
Jacob’s complaint gives details to the alleged connection of Facebook to the killing. It says that the shooting was not a random act of violence. It was the culmination of a plot by extremists that was planned on Facebook by two men who were connected by a Meta or Facebook group. The social media platform used infrastructure and algorithms that were designed and intended to increase user engagement and also profits for Meta.
The complaint says, “Meta’s algorithms promote extremism by exposing users to inflammatory, divisive, and untrue content. Meta has elected to do this because the material that engenders a strong emotional reaction engages readers.”
It also gave details regarding the way Meta’s algorithms reward the most prolific users. It recommends its content to other users. The truth is that Facebook accords that are known for and promote misinformation render about twice as much engagement per follower as other accounts. Meta has the policy to promote the most engaging content and push this information.
Jacob’s suit against Facebook maintains that their failure to warn users about the real harm that can come from the promotion of extremist groups that put out inflammatory misinformation is inexcusable. And Meta’s research indicates exactly how their algorithms work.
It was also reported in The Wall Street Journal that a Facebook spokesperson said the claims made by Jacobs are without legal basis. They also said that the company has, in the past, worked with law enforcement on the case. They have also banned more than 1,000 “militarized social movements” from its platform.
The Communications Decency Act protects internet companies like Facebook from being held liable for certain actions. This can be found in section 230 of the Act. But there has been some discussion from lawmakers focused on amending the 1996 law because of recent events.
Facebook continues to face lawsuits from other individuals who are seeking to hold the social media platform responsible for damages.
Attorneys for Jacob wrote in a statement given to NPR that Facebook’s files show that they have an active role in shaping the content on its website and they create and build groups on their platform that have activities that fall outside of the conduct that Section 230 protects.