It’s been nearly four years since the Proud Boys were banned from Facebook, but apparently the members are still trying to find their way back to the social network after all this time.
Meta announced on Thursday that it recently removed a network of activities affiliated with the violent extremist group after it discovered members were returning to Facebook and Instagram. The company says it has removed approximately 480 Proud Boys accounts, pages, groups and events through a strategy it calls “strategic network disruption” — in effect neutralizing a network of activities associated with a banned group in a targeted, simultaneous sweep.
Using this tactic, Meta says it can take effective action against dangerous organizations such as hate and terror groups seeking to maintain a foothold on the platform, reducing the chances of those accounts coordinating and resurfacing.
“While there is no panacea here, our approach is impacting these dangerous organizations, and we can see adversaries trying harder to hide their affiliations and change tactics,” Dina Hussein, Meta Counter-Terrorism Policy Head wrote on Twitter. “We remain vigilant and share our findings.”
Aside from that particular targeted enforcement, Meta says it has also removed 750 other accounts, groups, pages and events to date that were linked to the Proud Boys during its normal moderation efforts in 2022. During some of those activities, Proud led Boys members Facebook users to other platforms where the organization has not been banned, though Meta declined to name those services.
Facebook banned the Proud Boys in October 2018 next Twitter’s decision to do the same in August, by designating the group as a dangerous hate organization under the platform rules. Prior to the ban, londonbusinessblog.com explored how the Proud Boys used Facebook as a major recruiting hub, with a national network of well-organized departments to grow their ranks through its social networking groups and algorithmic recommendations.
While the Proud Boys were once out and about on Facebook, their efforts to re-establish a presence there are now much more subtle. That includes members hiding their membership, promoting front groups, and pushing more benign content that doesn’t contain overt extremist posts.
Meta doesn’t always share the moves it’s making against extremist and hate groups, especially when those actions are part of an ongoing effort. On Twitter, Hussein contextualized the company’s decision to share its recent actions against the Proud Boys in order to highlight “the hostile mutations we’re noticing” among banned groups making persistent attempts to claw their way back to the platform.
Meta’s approach to extremism has evolved significantly since the online heyday of the Proud Boys, QAnon conspirators, and countless violent anti-government militias, who once organized openly on Facebook and Instagram. Now Meta is implementing lessons learned from its more traditional, long-standing counter-terrorism efforts, as well as its more recently developed strategies for dealing with what it calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior” — influence campaigns that spread disinformation or other propaganda that often associated with authoritarian governments.
The violent far-right organization infamous for stir up street fights in left-leaning US cities during the Trump era is now the focus of the investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. In June, the Ministry of Justice sued five members, including former Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio with incendiary conspiracy for their alleged role in planning and participating in the attack.