Facebook says it is cracking down even further against groups related to the “Boogaloo” movement, which has considerable momentum among far-right militiamen and is based around the idea that the U.S. is headed towards a second Civil War. Just kidding! It only said that it will stop actively promoting them.
Per Reuters, Facebook already “banned the use of Boogaloo and related terms when they accompany pictures of weapons and calls to action, such as preparing for conflict” on May 1. But it apparently kept sending prompts for users in associated groups to join the Boogaloo groups where those violent calls to action were becoming a problem, at least until Thursday, when a Facebook spokesperson told Reuters it would stop doing that. The spokesperson added that it would also be taking action against related terms like “Big Igloo” or “Big Luau,” the news agency wrote.
A Tech Transparency Project report released in April found 125 Facebook groups with 125,000 members promoting the Boogaloo meme; at the time, Facebook told Gizmodo they were “reviewing the content referenced in this report and will enforce against any violations.” As a movement, the Boogaloo trend is loosely organized at best and not exclusive to the far right—after all, it’s hardly surprising that amid a global pandemic, a major economic recession, and predominantly peaceful nationwide protests against police brutality that have resulted in barbarous crackdowns by authorities, many people are wondering what might on the horizon.
But per a report on Friday by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks extremist groups, “boogaloo” came into use in the early 2010s by white supremacist and anti-government groups as a term for a fantasized “race war.” Over time, the term was laundered by “groups with a more mainstream aesthetic and less overtly racist aims” and entered more mainstream spaces until some of its explicitly racist connotations became obscured or ignored, the SPLC wrote.
The SPLC and Bellingcat have noted that while some Boogaloo groups disavow white supremacy, the trend is dominated by right-wing extremists, for whom predictions of an apocalyptic breakdown in societal order are ideological orthodoxy. Some true believers have been stockpiling firearms and showing up at protests while heavily armed. Federal prosecutors recently charged three men with alleged ties to the movement with multiple state and federal violations of conspiracy to cause destruction at protests in and possessing Molotov cocktails in Las Vegas.
One of the men, 35-year-old former Navy sailor Stephen T. Parshall, posted in a Facebook group called “The New Sons & Daughters of Liberty” that the response to the coronavirus pandemic should be “Start. Fomenting. Insurrection,” according to NBC News. Parshall also posted far-right imagery to Facebook such as Confederate flags, a rainbow swastika, and symbols relating to “Kekistan,” a meme referring to the collective community of white nationalists and supremacists across the web.
The SPLC has also noted the use of the term Boogaloo by the neo-fascist Proud Boys group, who have been implicated in beating protesters in New York and myriad street clashes with anti-fascist groups.
Facebook tweaking its systems to avoid directly promoting Boogaloo groups is the least it could do, considering that it understands its own content recommendation algorithms are fueling extremism.
According to a Wall Street Journal report in May, Facebook knows its platform encourages polarization and extremism—via their own internal research. In one 2016 presentation, a Facebook sociologist wrote that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools,” such as “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover,” and that “Our recommendation systems grow the problem.” The Journal detailed that multiple projects intended to deal with the polarization problem were watered down or abandoned, preceding CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s more recent pivot to a laissez-faire conception of “free expression.”
Facebook remains a hotbed of extremism and misinformation, regardless of the steps the company says it has taken to address it. A company representative recently told Bloomberg Quint that one of the bigger challenges was changes in terminology or adjustments to imagery designed to fool its moderation algorithms into thinking nothing is amiss.
“The platforms’ own practices and design create these loopholes that allow disinformation conspiracy theories and radicalizations to exist. What you’re seeing with boogaloo is an example of that,” Karen Kornbluh, director of the Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative at the German Marshall Fund, told Bloomberg. “They are able to pretty clearly violate the terms of service through such simple, obvious strategies, which shows that there’s a lot of tightening up that can be done.”
Kornbluh added that another loophole is the tactic of groups labeling themselves as satire, which could cause Facebook moderators to move on without necessarily considering what exactly is being satirized. One example was a group called “Anti-SJW Pinochet’s Helicopter Pilot Academy,” a reference to the right-wing Chilean dictator’s practice of having dissidents or their bodies thrown into the ocean from aircraft; Kornbluh told Bloomberg that group had promoted white supremacy.
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