August 17, 2023
Facebook axed nearly 100 Boogaloo Pages. Weeks later, they were back.
In the first week of April, something strange happened in the far corners of Facebook. More than 80 pages linked to the anti-government Boogaloo movement burst onto the platform; immediately, they started racking up hundreds of followers.
It appeared to be a coordinated effort, signaling a dramatic escalation in the insurgent movement’s year-long efforts to quietly return to Meta’s Facebook, despite the company labeling the Boogaloo a “dangerous network” in 2020 and banning it after its adherents were linked to several incidents of real-world violence, including murder.
And it wasn’t just 80 pages.
The Tech Transparency Project, a social media watchdog that’s been monitoring the Boogaloo on Facebook since its inception in late 2019, compiled a database of more than 200 pages, two-thirds of which were created just this spring. Its findings offer some sense of scale to the recent report by NBC News that found the Boogaloo movement was back on Facebook despite long-standing bans, raising questions about moderation failures. Days after that report came out, Facebook appeared to crack down on the Boogaloo network, axing around 100 pages.
But members of the Boogaloo community, who are bonded by their shared fantasies of a bloody civil war or uprising, had prepared for this moment. Within 24 hours of that crackdown, dozens of pages were already back up and running. Some of the movement’s top lieutenants used a web of dormant back-up pages to coordinate what they dubbed “Operation Boomerang” to reinstate the network—despite Facebook supposedly having mechanisms in place to prevent what they call “recidivism.”
More than 60 pages were created in the last two weeks of July. “They will absolutely be looking for our new pages etc,” wrote The Grey Man, one of the most influential accounts in the Boogaloo network (prior to the latest purge, he had thousands of followers across six different pages). “Avoid pit vipers and using our terms as the algorithms may be targeting them. Remember what got hit in the last purge and assume those conditions apply again.” He also assured his followers that he and other leaders were “working diligently to come back, identify algorithmic triggers, the cause and methods used to purge us.”
Katie Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project, thinks the Boogaloo have little to fear. Facebook has shown time and again that it takes a whack-a-mole approach to content moderation, said Paul, rather than a proactive one. And these days, it often takes an unflattering news article or report to directly flag those pages to the company, in order for them to take action, she added.
After VICE News contacted Meta for this story, many more pages disappeared. A spokesperson for Meta declined to offer comment though, instead pointing to a statement that the company put out in 2020, in which it pledged to continue studying the Boogaloo movement and continue to remove content or pages that violate their ban from the platform. “So long as violent movements operate in the physical world, they will seek to exploit digital platforms,” Meta wrote at the time. “We are stepping up our efforts against this network and know there is still more to do.”
But despite this commitment, the Boogaloo movement has been able to operate openly on Facebook for nearly a year, building a vast network of pages while making almost no effort to conceal their ideological affiliation. In her dataset, Paul coded pages according to whether they used explicit Boogaloo iconography in their banner photo, profile picture or page name—such as their flag, which has an igloo in the top left corner and a strip of Hawaiian print running across the center. She found that, prior to the latest purge, more than 100 pages (over half of the entries in her database) used those symbols.