Internet platforms are finally cracking down on right-wing extremists and their 'Boogaloo' cult

Internet platforms are finally cracking down on right-wing extremists and their 'Boogaloo' cult
Charlottesville "Unite the Right" Rally. Far-right Oath Keepers patrol Emancipation Park. Credit: Anthony Crider https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

It’s been a rough week for right-wing extremists on the Internet. On YouTube, neo-Nazi patriarch David Duke and white-nationalist gadflies Richard Spencer and Stefan Molyneux got the boot, along with video channels for racist organizations such as American Renaissance. Reddit finally got around to banning a number of subreddits where racism and misogyny had flourished, including the notorious r/The_Donald subreddit. (Twitch actually suspended Donald Trump himself.) Meanwhile, Facebook—after dragging its feet while the real-life threats mounted—banned hundreds of pages related to the so-called “Boogaloo” shared violent fantasy about a civil war that’s become immensely popular on the far right.


“We have strict policies prohibiting hate speech on YouTube, and terminate any channel that repeatedly or egregiously violates those policies. After updating our guidelines to better address supremacist content, we saw a 5x spike in video removals and have terminated over 25,000 channels for violating our hate speech policies,” a YouTube spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Reddit’s action focused on deplatforming hate speech, and involved banning roughly 2,000 communities (mostly inactive) from across the political spectrum, including the “dirtbag leftist” podcast Chapo Trap House, home to some 160,000 users. The most prominent, however, was r/The_Donald, which had more than 790,000 users, and became infamous for hosting a broad array of white-nationalist disinformation, along with videos and memes that made their way into Trump’s Twitter feed.

Reddit officials said the subreddit “had consistently broken its rules by allowing people to target and harass others with hate speech.”

“Reddit is a place for community and belonging, not for attacking people,” Steve Huffman, the company’s chief executive, told The New York Times. “‘The_Donald’ has been in violation of that.”

Trump’s Twitch account was temporarily suspended, the streaming-media company said, primarily because of his ongoing demonization of Hispanic immigrants, including a recent rant at his failed rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 21.

“Hateful conduct is not allowed on Twitch,” a spokesperson for the streaming giant told TechCrunch. “In line with our policies, President Trump’s channel has been issued a temporary suspension from Twitch for comments made on stream, and the offending content has been removed.”

Meanwhile, after allowing the “Boogaloo” cult to fester for months even as a number of followers engaged in escalating acts of domestic terrorism, Facebook showed signs that it was taking the problem seriously by taking down over 300 accounts related to the shared violent fantasy of a “second civil war.”

CNN reported that the social-media giant banned “a core set of 220 Facebook accounts, 95 accounts on Facebook-owned Instagram and dozens of pages and groups that Facebook, in a blog post, said posed a ‘credible threat’ to public safety.”

The “Boogaloo” accounts, Facebook said, were “actively promoting violence against civilians, law enforcement, and government officials and institutions,” and was moreover recruiting followers for “clearly violent purposes.”

Another 400 groups and 100 pages hosting "similar content" praising or supporting the movement—but which Facebook said were not primarily operated by members of the first network and did not appear to promote as much violence—were similarly targeted.

Three Democratic senators—Mark Warner of Virginia, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey—signed a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg voicing concerns about the spread of extremist content on the platform. The letter said the senators feared Facebook may be "unable (or unwilling) to enforce its own Community Standards."

"The prevalence of white supremacist and other extremist content on Facebook—and the ways in which these groups have been able to use the platform as organizing infrastructure—is unacceptable," the letter said, citing reports on the Boogaloo cult.

The senators’ concerns were well grounded. On Wednesday, after Facebook announced its purge, BuzzFeed reported that it found the company had been profiting significantly from the “Boogaloo” phenomenon: Ads featuring “Boogaloo” themes were running on both Facebook and its photo-sharing site, Instagram, for months.

By accepting money from Boogaloo supporters, Tech Transparency Project Director Katie Paul told BuzzFeed News, the company amplified its violent agenda.

“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.

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