Home sci-tech TikTok’s Boogaloo extremism problem


TikTok’s Boogaloo extremism problem

by ace

Image copyright TikTok Image caption Screengrab showing a man with an assault rifle making a TikTok video

The music is captivating – a classic and western country. A soft southern accent sings a chorus.

Like many TikTok clips, the user added music and effects to the video.

This is not a normal TikTok video.

First of all, the username clearly contains a homophobic reference. Second, the man is holding a massive assault rifle.

“Roll Call: who is an ox boog in Colorado. See who the friends are”, is the message.

Welcome to TikTok, a place designed for fun and dancing with a dark belly.

The video is referring to Boogaloo Bois, perhaps the most worrying movement that has emerged in the US recently.

Heavily armed

It is difficult to describe the group succinctly. In general, it is an extremist and libertarian militia that deeply distrusts the government and prepares for civil war. They are almost always heavily armed.

During George Floyd’s protests, a man who was attached to the Boogaloo Bois was accused of killing a federal security officer. Eight days later, he reportedly killed a police officer. He was charged with murder.

Image copyright CBS / Sheriff’s Office Santa Cruz Image caption Steven Carrillo was charged with first-degree murder

Many others men with Boogaloo connections were charged with terrorism crimes in Nevada.

And yet, TikTok – like other platforms like Facebook – has struggled to get the group off its website.

Earlier this month, the anti-misinformation group Media Matters for America published a report on Boogaloo Bois on TikTok. He found that the site was infested with extremist material.

“Basically, how I think about Boogaloo is that they want to create interruptions and violence, and it is obviously against the rules of TikTok to show weapons in their videos,” says Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters.

TikTok took action, removing the material and hashtags that the group was using.

Impressive audience

A few weeks later, I thought about checking in to see if I could still find Boogaloo videos. I could, very easily.

Using a slightly different hashtag, #boogalo, it was a disadvantage to find content linking and promoting Boogaloo content.

A video from another username that was deliberately offensive used the hashtag while firing his rifle. This is a common theme. Videos generally include country music, shooting a gun and using different spellings and variants of the Boogaloo hashtag.

Another user shows his anime-inspired ammo and rifle. The video’s childish tone is particularly worrying

Yet another shows a group of men masked with weapons and a clear reference to the murder of state officials.

Other videos show users preparing for “The Boogaloo” (rough translation: civil war).

This usually means placing your combat equipment in front of a mirror and preparing your weapons.

Image copyright TikTok Image caption Tiktok screengrab showing a man with a big gun and using a Boogaloo hashtag

The particularly worrying part of all this is how some of the people in the videos are young.

And, of course, the people watching this on TikTok are also young. Although TikTok does not say in itself how young the average age is, research suggests that about half of its regular users are under 24 years old.

It’s an impressionable audience and a dangerous platform in the wrong hands, says Chloe Colliver of the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, an anti-extremist think tank.

“The notorious far-right influencers who have been banned from other platforms in the past two years have found at least a temporary home on TikTok,” she adds.

“Recently, however, there seems to have been sporadic action against some of them, depending on outside pressure from researchers or the media.”

That’s exactly what I found. I approached TikTok with the videos I had seen and they were quickly removed. This, says Carusone, makes TikTok different from other social media platforms like Facebook.

‘Wild West’

“What is interesting about them is that it is like the Wild West. It is totally. But they do it very very fast. So when there is a problem on their platform, they try,” he says.

The problem is that the ways in which TikTok moderates clearly are not working. At the time of writing, it is still easy to find Boogaloo content on the website.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The followers of Boogaloo are attached to firearms and preparing for “yet another US civil war”

TikTok told me that “keeping our community safe on TikTok is a priority”.

He added: “In accordance with community guidelines, we do not allow content that promotes hateful ideologies, and any content or account that violates these guidelines will be removed.”

The company said the videos were removed for “violating hate speech” and “inciting violence while describing weapons”.

But here’s the thing. They would still be there if the BBC had not alerted TikTok about this.

TikTok also told me that it had automatic systems that detect inappropriate content – but those systems are clearly not capturing everything.

The problem is not just with TikTok. On Monday, Facebook removed hundreds of Boogaloo accounts.

It is also not just about Boogaloo. No social media company has yet found a solution to adequately protect users from extremist content, threats of violence, conspiracy theories and racism.

Instead, TikTok’s Boogaloo problem is yet another sad accusation of our times, of agitators who want to post extremist content and big tech companies unable to react quickly enough to bring it down.


Related Articles

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More