Facebook has banned an extremist anti-government network associated with the term “boogaloo,” a slang word supporters use to refer to a second civil war.
Tuesday’s move by Facebook designates the right-wing “boogaloo” network as a dangerous organization similar to the Islamic State group and white supremacists, both of which are already banned from its service.
The ban comes months after researchers began warning Facebook that the “boogaloo” groups flourishing on its platform were full of people discussing violence against government officials and sharing guerrilla combat tactics.
Reports from outside groups released in February and then in April both warned that the “boogaloo” was a dangerous anti-government group trying to incite violence against law enforcement officials.
While Facebook began to take down some “boogaloo” posts and groups this spring, it did not announce sweeping action against the extremist movement on its platform until after two law enforcement officials had already been killed in California.
A federal security officer was shot to death in Oakland, California, on 30 May, and a Santa Cruz sheriff sergeant was shot to death on 6 June. Their alleged killer had posted about the “boogaloo” on Facebook, where he also connected with the man charged as his accomplice, according to the criminal complaint against him.
As part of Tuesday’s announcement of its “boogaloo” ban, Facebook said it has removed 220 Facebook accounts, 95 Instagram accounts, 28 pages and 106 groups that that comprise the violent “boogaloo”-affiliated network. It also took down 400 other groups and 100 pages that hosted similar content as the violent network but were maintained by accounts outside of it.
Facebook’s announcement of the “boogaloo” ban is a ‘“substantive action”, and “one of the more widespread and transparent network disruption actions specifically targeting non-state actors we’ve seen from the company yet”, said Alex Newhouse, a digital researcher at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at Middlebury Institute for International Studies, who has been tracking the “boogaloo” movement on Facebook for several months.
But Newhouse said that he and other researchers had already identified at least 20 “boogaloo” groups which were still live on Facebook after the ban, including some that were direct backups or clones of pages that had been banned.
Several researchers who monitor ”boogaloo” groups on Facebook said they had already identified multiple groups that had been missed by Facebook’s ban.
“As with everything Facebook does, it was too little and too late,” said Katie Paul, the director of the Tech Transparency Project, which produced a report warning about boogaloo groups on Facebook in April.
Facebook’s attempt to distinguish between violent and non-violent boogaloo groups was “particularly dangerous,” said Joan Donovan, the director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.
This is “a fallacy that allows some white supremacists to continue to operate so long as they tone down their violent rhetoric,” Donovan wrote in an e-mail.
In announcing its new ban, Facebook also said that it was still trying to distinguish between a “violent” “boogaloo” network that it had banned from the platform, and what it described as a different, “broader and loosely-affiliated boogaloo movement” that does not seek to commit violence.
The social network is not banning all references to “boogaloo” and said it is only removing groups, accounts and pages when they have a “clear connection to violence or a credible threat to public safety”.
“The boogaloo ecosystem that gives rise to violent extremism is larger than just the network that Facebook disrupted,” Newhouse said.
“Boogaloo” supporters have shown up at protests over Covid-19 lockdown orders, carrying rifles and wearing tactical gear over Hawaiian shirts. Facebook said the movement dates back to 2012 and that it has been tracking it closely since last year.
Facebook said it has so far found no evidence of foreign actors amplifying “boogaloo”-related material.
Social media companies are facing a reckoning over hate speech on their platforms. Reddit, an online comment forum that is one of the world’s most popular websites, on Monday banned a forum that supported Donald Trump as part of a crackdown on hate speech.
Live-streaming site Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, also temporarily suspended Trump’s campaign account for violating its hateful conduct rules. YouTube, meanwhile, banned several prominent white nationalist figures from its platform, including Stefan Molyneux, David Duke and Richard Spencer.
And pressure is rising on Facebook to rein in Trump’s social media behavior. Facebook’s decision to allow a post by Trump that read “when the looting starts the shooting starts” to remain on the platform has led to a growing advertiser boycott that includes Unilever, Levi’s, Coca-Cola and Starbucks.