The sister of a slain federal officer is suing Facebook’s parent company, Meta, accusing the tech giant of radicalizing her brother’s alleged shooter through its algorithm.
Angela Underwood Jacobs filed the wrongful death lawsuit Thursday in Alameda County state court in California alleging Facebook is aware of and knowingly fails to warn users about the role its algorithm plays in boosting extremist content, including around the “boogaloo” movement that authorities said her brother’s alleged shooter was tied to.
Jacobs’s brother, Department of Homeland Security Officer Dave Patrick Underwood, was fatally shot in May 2020 while providing security at a federal courthouse in Oakland, Calif., during a rally to protest the killing of George Floyd.
In June, authorities charged Steven Carrillo with murder associated with the killing. They also charged Robert Alvin Justus Jr., who allegedly drove the vehicle from which Carrillo fired from, with aiding and abetting the murder.
A federal complaint linked Carrillo to the boogaloo movement. According to the complaint, Justus and Carrillo connected on Facebook and used the platform to make plans to meet on the day of Underwood’s killing, according to a federal complaint.
The boogaloo movement is an antigovernment extremist movement. On June 30, 2020, Facebook said it would designate the movement as a dangerous organization and ban it from the platform.
Jacobs’s lawyers argue that Facebook breached its “duty of care” to users by “aiding the growth of boogaloo groups” by “actively promoting and recommending these groups” on its platform and failing to “exercise adequate supervision” over the groups’ activity.
The complaint filed by Jacobs alleges that “Meta knew or could have reasonably foreseen" that users would likely become radicalized and potentially commit violence against members of law enforcement upon joining the groups.
Meta spokesperson Kevin MacAlister said the claims in the complaint 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," MacAlister said in a statement.
Facebook typically fends off such legal challenges through protections provided under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides a liability shield for internet companies against content posted by third parties.
—Updated Friday at 10:27 a.m.