Sister of federal officer killed in Oakland sues Facebook, accusing social media company of promoting violent content and linking alleged killers online

by Jessica Schneider and Tierney Snead | CNN

Facebook is the target of a new lawsuit from the sister of a slain federal official who claims the tech giant’s algorithms and drive for revenue played an active role in encouraging her brother’s alleged killers.

A wrongful death lawsuit filed in California state court on Thursday was filed in California state court by David Patrick Underwood’s sister, Angela Underwood Jacobs, a Federal Protective Services officer who was shot and killed outside a federal building in Oakland, California, in May 2020. was given.

The lawsuit claims that the shooting was “not a random act of violence” by an alleged member of the Boogaloo extremist movement, but instead, “the culmination of an extremist conspiracy hatched and planned by two men on Facebook.”

This comes after former Facebook employee Frances Haugen late last year revealed that Facebook has consistently chosen to maximize profit and growth over public safety. This wrongful death claim from Jacobs captures those revelations, among others, for blaming Facebook for recommending extremist material, and ultimately connecting the two men charged in connection with Underwood’s death. Facebook bans hundreds of accounts affiliated with the Boogaloo movement in June 2020, saying that the accounts were “actively promoting violence against citizens, law enforcement, and government officials and institutions.”

CNN has contacted Facebook for comment.

A director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University is skeptical of the success of the trial for several reasons. Professor Eric Goldman said that in order to proceed with this type of negligence claim, Underwood’s sister would have to prove that Facebook had a duty to him or her brother, which he says does not exist.

“There needs to be some kind of special relationship between Facebook and the victim, and the standard customer/vendor relationship doesn’t have that kind of special relationship,” Goldman told CNN. “And, even if the plaintiff can show dutiful and near cause, I think they are going to fail by virtue of section 230.”

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act largely shields the tech giants from liability for any illegal activities or content shared on social media platforms.

Two people are facing charges in connection with Underwood’s death — Steven Carrillo, an active-duty Air Force sergeant who was stationed at Travis Air Force Base at the time of the shooting, and Robert Alvin Justus, Jr., prosecutors say. The two connected on Facebook and then traveled to Oakland to carry out a pre-planned attack on a federal courthouse in the wake of protests following the death of George Floyd. On May 29, 2020, just before 10 p.m., Carrillo reportedly fired several rounds from a white Ford van toward a guard post in front of the Federal Courtyard, killing Underwood and injuring his partner.

Carrillo, who was charged with murder of Underwood and attempted murder of another federal security officer who was wounded, has pleaded not guilty. Justus was charged with allegedly driving the van and abetting and abetting the attempt to murder. Justice pleaded not guilty.

According to the criminal complaint, Justus told FBI agents that he had met Carrillo on Facebook. The two men reportedly exchanged messages where they discussed targeting “soup bois” for federal law enforcement officers, and a video of a large crowd violently attacking two California Highway Patrol vehicles. shared. Justus reportedly also responded to a message saying, “Let’s boogie,” a phrase said by the attested FBI agent, a statement of agreement to engage in attacks on law enforcement personnel, and is consistent with the Boogaloo ideology.

The lawsuit accuses Facebook of leading Justus “down a road toward extremism,” noting that its algorithms recommended that he join Boogaloo-related groups, including the group that introduced him to Carrillo. The suit also claimed that several watchdog groups had warned Facebook that it was the primary platform of the Boogaloo movement and that it was “helping to build local links between extremists interested in acts of violence against the government and law enforcement officials”. was helping.”

Despite this awareness, the lawsuit argues, Facebook “failed to take action to prevent the followers of the Boogaloo movement” from using its platform to “link, organize and plan acts of violence”. Instead, Facebook “continues to recommend Boogaloo-related groups through its ‘Related Pages’ and ‘Suggested Groups’ functions,” the lawsuit claims.

Angela Underwood Jacobs is adding all these threads to suing Facebook for wrongful death, seeking damages of more than $25,000. In a statement released when the lawsuit was filed, Jacobs said, “Facebook takes responsibility for my brother’s murder. … Facebook deliberately promoted inflammatory and violent content and linked the extremists who plotted to my brother’s murder and executed it.”