Facebook Has Been Profiting From Boogaloo Ads Promoting Civil War And Unrest
Facebook said on Tuesday it was banning content associated with the "Boogaloo" extremist group. BuzzFeed News found the company has been running Boogaloo ads advocating for violence for months.
On Sunday, the @docscustomknives Instagram account placed an ad on the popular photo-sharing social network advocating that people “join the militia, fight the state.” As clips from action movies play, showing police officers being shot and killed, music blares with lyrics proclaiming, "We ain't scared of no police / We got guns too."
As of Tuesday afternoon, the ad was still online.
Several hashtags in the ad — including #Boogaloo, #BoogalooBois, and #BoogalooMemes — connect the ad to “Boogaloos,” a catchphrase for anti-government extremists who have called for violence against the police and state officials and advocated for another Civil War in the US.
This ad is just one of several pieces of paid content related to the Boogaloo movement on Facebook and Instagram that were uncovered by BuzzFeed News; this is despite claims by Facebook that it was doing more to take action against the group.
The @docscustomknives may be the most recent, but it is far from the only Boogaloo ad that has run on Facebook or its photo-sharing site, Instagram. As right-wing extremists have used the company’s tools to organize, the world’s largest social network has also profited from ads pushing for white supremacy.
On Tuesday, Facebook said it would designate the Boogaloo movement as "a dangerous organization," banning it from the platform and Instagram. The company removed 220 Facebook accounts, 28 pages, and 106 groups, as well as 95 Instagram accounts, which made up what it called a “violent US-based anti-government network.” Facebook also removed 400 additional groups and more than 100 pages that shared similar content.
The account that ran the Instagram ad was not among those that the company removed. A person associated with @docscustomknives did not return a request for comment.
“That does not sound good,” a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News when a reporter described the content of the Boogaloo ads. They noted that the ads would be sent to a team for further review and that Tuesday’s enforcement was “just the start of the impact” on Boogaloo groups.
“We will continue to monitor for symbols and content that the violent network uses and update police and enforcement,” the spokesperson said. “If it’s organic content, it will certainly come down, as well as in ads.”
“That does not sound good.”
That may not be enough to mollify some of Facebook's critics. Tech Transparency Project Director Katie Paul told BuzzFeed News that when Facebook accepted money from Boogaloo supporters and sympathizers, it amplified the movement.
“The company is not just failing to address the fact that its platform is really feeding this echo chamber of supporters, but also the fact that it’s profiting off that movement that is predicated on violence,” she said.
Derived from the name of a 1984 movie, the term “Boogaloo” covers a range of extremists, including some believed to be violent. Earlier this month, Steven Carrillo, a 32-year-old Air Force sergeant and suspected Boogaloo member, was charged with killing a federal security officer and a police deputy in California.
The Anti-Defamation League has called Boogaloo "an old joke [that evolved] into a catchphrase for mass violence." The Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that it "emerged concurrently in antigovernment and white power online spaces in the early 2010s. In both of these communities, 'boogaloo' was frequently associated with racist violence and, in many cases, was an explicit call for race war."
Facebook’s enforcement came after watchdog groups warned about right-wing extremist organizations organizing online under the Boogaloo moniker. In April, the Tech Transparency Project found 125 Facebook Groups with an aggregate of "tens of thousands of members" tied to the word “Boogaloo,” more than 60% of which had been created in the last three months.
And ads featuring Boogaloo keywords have been running on Facebook and Instagram for months.
Body armor company Hoplite Armor ran an ad for an “Aloha Combat Shirt and Plate Carrier GIVEAWAY” from Sept. 29 to Oct. 31 last year with the hashtags “#Boogaloo” and “#CivilWar.” (Some Boogaloo members have attempted to appropriate Hawaiian shirts because “Boogaloo” is a homophone for “big luau,” another popular phrase in the movement.)
According to Facebook’s analytics, that ad garnered between 1,000 and 2,000 impressions and was mainly shown to men between the ages of 25 and 34 in California, Texas, and New York. Hoplite Armor’s page spent $517 between May 2018 and today on political or social ads, according to the social network’s Ad Library, and continues to sell the body armor on Facebook. The combination aloha shirt and plate carrier retails for $249 through Facebook’s commerce tool.
Hoplite Armor did not return BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
In February, another Facebook page, “Boogaloo II,” advertised a "2A Strong" sweatshirt. The ad appeared to call for political gun violence: "Let's Keep Virginia 2A Strong,” it said. “Let's Keep Liberty, UnPerverted, By Bullet, Or Ballot, Shall Not Be Infringed."
That ad isn't active currently, but it reached more than 2,000 people, targeting residents of Virginia, where there had been a pro-gun rally at the state’s capitol the month before.
Throughout the spring, the Boogaloo movement has continued to gain momentum. Paul told BuzzFeed News that members have used recent police killings of Black Americans to recruit people who may sympathize with their anti-government views. The @docscustomknives ad, for instance, used the hashtags #BreonnaTaylor and #GeorgeFloyd.
“It makes clear that these individuals are really trying to co-opt these movements to recruit supporters who may have issues with the government and authority,” she said. “It’s really signaling to that recruiting aspect that we’ve seen discussed in these private groups among Boogaloo supporters and organizers.
Facebook said earlier this month that it would take steps to limit the spread of Boogaloo on the platform by limiting recommendations for related Facebook Groups.
People who identify with the group claim the company is discriminating against them. An Instagram post on Monday from @docscustomknives — which ran the ad showing the dramatized killings of police — included screenshots appearing to show that Facebook had removed three of its posts for violating community guidelines and took down a version of the violent video ad.
One person commenting on the post called Facebook's actions a "crackdown.”
The @docscustomknives account remains online, but its owner appears to have a backup plan should Facebook take it down: Someone set up @docscustomknives2 on Instagram, listing it as a “shopping & retail” account.
“If I’m posting here that means I got Waco’d or Instagram fucked me again,” the account’s bio reads.