Meta sued for alleged role in fatal shooting of US security guard

SIPA USA via PA Images The logo of the company Meta is seen on the screen of a mobile phone in Barcelona, Spain on October 28, 2021. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on October 28 the name of the new umbrella company that will oversee the social medias Facebook, Instagram, Facebook. (Photo by Davide Bonaldo/Sipa USA)
The shooters allegedly met on an extremist Facebook group that was recommended to them by algorithms. (Source: SIPA USA)

Facebook’s parent company is being sued for its alleged role in platforming an extremist group that planned an attack on a security guard.

The attack resulted in the death of the federal security guard.

The case challenges the protections given to social-media companies shielding them from the consequences of content posted to their platforms. 

Dave Patrick Underwood was killed in a drive-by shooting in May 2020. His sister has filed a lawsuit against Meta to hold the company accountable for connecting the two men responsible and giving them a space online to plan the attack.

‘The shooting was not a random act of violence,’ the lawsuit states.

‘It was the culmination 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.’

According to the lawsuit filed last week, Facebook recommended groups that ‘openly advocated for violence’ and that the two men would never have met if not for Facebook’s recommendations.

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg wants social media companies to be able to self regulate harmful content themselves. (Picture: Facebook Connect)

The two men charged in the case were later linked to an anti-government movement called ‘boogaloo’.

Facebook banned the movement in June 2020 for ‘actively promoting violence against civilians, law enforcement and government officials and institutions’.

A spokesperson for Meta said in a statement to The New York Times that the ‘claims are without legal basis’ and the company had banned more than 1000 ‘militarized social movements’ from its platform.

The alleged shooter and accomplice have pleaded not guilty to charges related to the murder.

This is not the first time Meta has been in trouble for fueling extremism and violence. The tech giant was recently sued by a group of Rohingya refugees over its role in amplifying hate speech that incited genocide in Myanmar.

In 2016, Facebook’s own researchers warned that group recommendations were pushing users toward extremism, according to internal company documents first reported by The Wall Street Journal. 

Unlike publishers of newspapers and books, internet companies like Facebook are protected by a 1996 federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that protects them from any liability in such acts of extremism grown on their platforms. 

Recently, legislators have been discussing potential changes to the law, such as curbing or revoking social media companies’ liability protection owing to an increase in similar cases.

However, Meta’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has called for the opposite, asking Congress to pass legislation forcing digital platforms to earn legal immunity by demonstrating that they have systems in place to identify unlawful content and remove it.

This is just one of many lawsuits set to take on Meta’s liability protections. In a Texas case filed in 2018, an anonymous plaintiff who was allegedly trafficked for sex as a minor is seeking to hold the company liable for its role in connecting their traffickers.

Facebook has since said that it takes action to prevent trafficking and extremism on its site but militarised social movements continue to have a presence on Meta’s platforms.

On Thursday, one such organisation even ran ads on Meta-owned Instagram, to recruit members for ‘a grass-roots movement that pursues readying individual militiamen’. The group’s account was later removed, the company said. has reached out to Meta for comment.

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