Facebook Becomes Key Place For Extremist Boogaloo Movement Organizers

Jun 6, 2020
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This week, federal prosecutors announced the arrest of three men who are allegedly part of the extremist Boogaloo Movement, a group that seeks to bring about a civil war in America. The criminal complaint claims they planned to bring Molotov cocktails to a Black Lives Matter protest following the death of George Floyd. Besides their ideology, one thing they had in common was that they were members of a Boogaloo group on Facebook. NPR's Tim Mak has more on how this extremist movement is proliferating on that platform.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Attorney General William Barr cited this extremist movement Thursday as one that federal law enforcement is keeping an eye on.

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WILLIAM BARR: There are some groups that want to bring about a civil war, the Boogaloo group, that has been on the margin of this, as well, trying to exacerbate the violence.

MAK: The three men arrested in Nevada were accused of trying to instigate violence between police and protesters.

JONATHAN GREENBLATT: There's a dynamic that's at work, where they're trying to infiltrate the public anger over the killing of George Floyd and exploit it for their own advantage.

MAK: That's Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, whose organization has been tracking this extremist movement.

GREENBLATT: Some people involved in the movement are white supremacists but by no means all of them. Others involved with the movement - the majority are anti-government and seek a conflict with the state, with law enforcement and the ideological - what they perceive to be the ideological left.

MAK: All three of those arrested by federal law enforcement were members of a Boogaloo Facebook group, according to a criminal complaint. NPR examined the Facebook profile of one of the suspects and found that he was a member of multiple Facebook groups relating to the Boogaloo movement. Joel Finkelstein is the director of the Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks hateful ideology online. He says that Facebook has become a key place for members of the Boogaloo movement to organize, recruit and discuss communication strategies through the use of private groups.

JOEL FINKELSTEIN: In terms of a structure that allows these things to remain hidden, I think it goes without saying, almost, that Facebook is far and away one of the best kinds of platforms that you could have for that purpose.

MAK: Finkelstein said that as he and his team researched these extremist groups, Facebook began to advertise to him.

FINKELSTEIN: We were given targeted advertisements by the platform supporting the Boogaloo in the form of shirts containing Boogaloo memes, hats, military badges containing this kind of material.

MAK: Facebook said through a spokesperson that it had removed the accounts of the three men arrested. The spokesperson said that in May, the company had updated its violence and incitement policy to prohibit content related to the term Boogaloo when accompanied by depictions of armed violence. It also said it was preventing these pages and groups from being recommended to others on Facebook. Critics argue that Facebook hasn't done enough to combat extremist content. Daniel Stevens heads the Tech Transparency Project, a group that seeks to hold large tech companies accountable. He said that in April, his organization released a report about how the Boogaloo movement organizes on Facebook. But Facebook didn't take serious actions, Stevens argues.

DANIEL STEVENS: Facebook didn't take down these Boogaloo groups. They're all still up and available on Facebook. Now, some of the groups have changed their names or have changed administrators or - so they've done, you know, a few small things to try to evade detection. But, essentially, they're all there, and all these people are organizing on Facebook to this day.

MAK: And despite Facebook's pledge to stop recommending these pages, Stevens said his team saw recommendations for Boogaloo groups on Facebook as recently as Thursday. Tim Mak, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.