Facebook announced on Tuesday that it had banned hundreds of “boogaloo” accounts, and groups that it said had violated its policy against violence.
The move came as the social media giant has faced mounting corporate and political pressure to root out violent extremists, especially those who moderate Facebook groups and pages.
In a statement, Facebook said it was designating a subset of boogaloo proponents as a violent anti-government network under its policy against “dangerous individuals and organizations.”
“This network appears to be based across various locations in the U.S., and the people within it engage with one another on our platform,” the statement read. “It is actively promoting violence against civilians, law enforcement and government officials and institutions. Members of this network seek to recruit others within the broader boogaloo movement, sharing the same content online and adopting the same offline appearance as others in the movement to do so.”
The term “boogaloo” refers to a loose movement of sometimes-violent extremist who anticipate — and, often, agitate for — a second Civil War. The movement is loose and has no real leadership, but for years its adherents have landed on law enforcement radars for their heavily armed presence at protests and threats against the government.
Two California men facing federal charges for the murder of a Federal Protective Services officer in Oakland on May 29 first connected on a boogaloo-oriented Facebook group, prosecutors alleged in a complaint against the men.
CNN reported earlier this month that Facebook had deleted the group discussed in the criminal complaint against the alleged shooter, Steven Carrillo, and his alleged driver Robert Alvin Justus. State prosecutors also allege that Carrillo killed a sheriff’s deputy in an ambush attack a week after the Oakland shooting.
The Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, Carrillo allegedly wrote on Facebook, are “a great opportunity to target the specialty soup bois.” (“Speciality soup bois,” is an in-group reference to federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI and ATF — so-called “alphabet soup agencies.”)
Facebook said in its statement Tuesday that it wasn’t targeting all “boogaloo”-themed groups, but rather those specifically tied to violence. The network in question, it said, “is distinct from the broader and loosely-affiliated boogaloo movement because it actively seeks to commit violence.”
The site said it had removed hundreds of Facebook accounts, pages and groups — as well as hundreds more groups and pages that violated its “dangerous individuals and organizations” policy for hosting similar content.
The extent of the ban, and its comprehensiveness, is unclear. The digital researcher Alex Newhouse pointed to one boogaloo-oriented page, Rhett E. Boogie. The page was banned weeks ago, Newhouse said, but has already returned to the site under an altered name — one that appears to have escaped Facebook’s censors.
A case study in the possible limitations of FB's crackdown on Boog pages is "Rhett E. Boogie", a page that was already banned a couple of weeks ago (likely) for inciting violence.
It's now up under a name that's designed to evade auto-moderation, and it escaped today's actions. pic.twitter.com/y2ouSWFV5x
— Alex Newhouse (@AlexBNewhouse) June 30, 2020
Facebook’s action came after pressure from organizations eager for action in light of weeks of Black Lives Matter protests: The #StopHateforProfit campaign, led by civil rights groups including the NAACP, has faulted the platform for failing to address hate speech and violence on the site.
On Monday, Ford joined a growing list of influential corporations to pause advertising on Facebook as part of the campaign, joining Unilever, Adidas and others. “The existence of content that includes hate speech, violence and racial injustice on social platforms needs to be eradicated,” a Ford spokesperson told the Detroit Free Press.
On Tuesday, Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “to express our serious concerns” about white supremacists using of the platform as an organizing tool
The senators cited a report from late April from the Tech Transparency Project that found “125 Facebook groups devoted to the ‘boogaloo’.”
“Most of the groups’ posts were explicit in their calls for violence, including discussions of ‘tactical strategies, combat medicine, and various types of weapons, including how to develop explosives and the merits of using flame throwers,” the senators said.
The various groups counted 72,686 members in total, TTP found in April — though many of those were doubtless part of multiple groups at once.
Notably, boogaloo groups appear to have surged during the protest movement against COVID-19-related public health orders: Of all of the groups TTP surveyed, the report said, nearly half of the membership had joined in the 30 days prior.