TikTok’s Boogaloo extremism problem – BBC News

Screengrab shows a man with an assault rifle making a TikTok video

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Tic toc

Caption of the image

Screengrab shows a man with an assault rifle making a TikTok video

The song is catchy – a classic and western country. A sweet southern sound hums a chorus.

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

This is not an ordinary TikTok video though.

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

“Roll Call: who is a boi boi in Colorado. See who are friends”, is the message.

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

The video refers to the Bois Boogaloo, perhaps the most disturbing movement that has emerged in the United States recently.

Heavily armed

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

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

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CBS / Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office

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Steven Carrillo has been charged with first degree murder

Several other men with Boogaloo connections have been charged with terrorist offenses in Nevada.

Yet TikTok – just like other platforms like Facebook – has struggled to get the group out of its site.

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

“Basically, as I think of the Boogaloo is that they want to create disintegration and violence, and it is obviously against TikTok’s rules to show weapons in your videos,” says Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters.

TikTok acted by removing the material and hashtags the group was using.

Emotional audience

A couple of weeks later, I thought I’d check in to see if I could still find Boogaloo videos. I could, very easily.

Using a slightly different #boogalo hashtag, it was a breeze to find content that linked and promoted Boogaloo content.

A video of another deliberately offensive username used the hashtag while shooting with his rifle. This is a common theme. Videos often include country music, the launch of a weapon and the use of different spellings and variants of the Boogaloo hashtag.

Another user showcases anime-inspired ammunition and rifles. The childish tone of the video is of particular concern

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

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

Usually this means putting their combat gear in front of a mirror and preparing their weapons.

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Tic toc

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Tiktok’s Screengrab shows a man with a large gun and uses a Boogaloo hashtag

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

And of course, the people who watch this on TikTok are also young. Although TikTok does not say for itself how young the average age is, research suggests that around half of its regular users are under the age of 24.

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 kicked out of other platforms in the past two years have at least temporarily found a home on TikTok,” he adds.

“Recently, however, there seem to have been sporadic actions against some of them, depending on external pressure from researchers or the media.”

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

‘Wild West’

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

The problem is that the ways in which TikTok moderates clearly don’t work. At the time of writing, it is still easy to find Boogaloo content on the site.

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Getty Images

Caption of the image

Boogaloo’s followers are fixated on firearms and prepare for “another American civil war”

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

He added: “According to our community guidelines, we do not allow content that promotes hateful ideologies and any content or accounts found to violate these guidelines will be removed.”

He said the videos were deleted to “violate the hate speech” and “incite violence while describing weapons”.

But here’s the thing. They would still be there if the BBC hadn’t warned TikTok.

TikTok also told me that it had automatic systems that detect inappropriate content, but those systems clearly don’t collect everything.

The problem is not only that of TikTok. On Monday, Facebook removed hundreds of Boogaloo accounts.

It’s not even 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 more of a sad accusation of our times, of agitators who want to publish extremist content and big tech companies who are unable to react fast enough to eliminate it.

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