Facebook reverses Kyle Rittenhouse search policy

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Facebook has reversed a decision to block searches on its platform for a US teenager who was acquitted of killing two people during unrest in Wisconsin.

The company acted shortly after the shooting by Kyle Rittenhouse in August 2020, ensuring searches of his name would result in a list of blank pages.

Facebook confirmed its change of policy to the BBC, but declined to comment.

Mr Rittenhouse, 18, was cleared this month of two counts of homicide and one of attempted homicide.

In a Twitter thread shortly after the shooting, Facebook’s Brian Fishman, the former director of its Dangerous Individuals and Organizations division, said the company had blocked searches for the teenager’s name.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

He also stated that Facebook was removing praise for Mr Rittenhouse.

The policy went further than other large social media platforms.

YouTube, for example, had no specific Kyle Rittenhouse policy in place, and only removed content that broke existing rules on glorifying violence.

The teenager had admitted to fatally shooting two men and wounding a third during racial unrest in the Wisconsin city of Kenosha last year, but said he was acting in self defence.

Mr Rittenhouse is considered a patriotic hero by some, and a reckless vigilante by others. The line between support and glorification of violence is a difficult judgement for moderators.

In December last year the BBC found videos on YouTube of people recreating Kyle Rittenhouse’s shooting at gun ranges. The platform removed them, only after they were alerted to the videos.

However, YouTube did not remove other videos that glorified Mr Rittenhouse’s actions. YouTube’s moderation of Rittenhouse content was on a case by case basis.

Facebook took a very different approach. It removed Mr Rittenhouse’s accounts.

Even though people were allowed to talk about Mr Rittenhouse on the platform, a search of his name would result in a list of blank pages.

His acquittal made Facebook’s policy difficult to maintain.

The verdict also brought into question whether Facebook had over-corrected in moderating Rittenhouse-related content in such a way.

Many right-leaning publications and broadcasters in America slammed Facebook’s decision to block searches of his name.

The New York Post, for example, argued: “Facebook declared Kyle Rittenhouse guilty from the start.”

Republican Senator Josh Hawley said after the verdict that Big Tech had “made up their minds on this case months ago, sought to deny Kyle Rittenhouse the presumption of innocence and censored those who disagreed”.

Facebook would argue, however, that a tragic act of violence needed a tangible response.

The BBC understands that Mr Rittenhouse does not currently have a Facebook or Instagram account.

It is unclear whether Facebook would stop him from creating one in future.

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