Facebook has reinstated Kyle Rittenhouse’s privileges across the site, including unblocking his name in searches. Rittenhouse was first banned in August 2020 after shooting two people amidst protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Last week, after an exhausting trial, Rittenhouse was found not guilty on two counts of murder and one charge of attempted homicide. The not-guilty verdict prompted Facebook to reverse its decision from last August. Before this week, users were not allowed to celebrate Rittenhouse’s activities, and Rittenhouse himself was not allowed to post on the site.
"After the verdict in Kenosha we rolled back the restrictions we had in place that limited search results from returning content related to key terms including Kyle Rittenhouse," said Andy Stone, Facebook’s most antagonistic PR guy. "While we will still remove content that celebrates the death of the individuals killed in Kenosha, we will no longer remove content containing praise or support of Rittenhouse."
What could go wrong? — Rittenhouse’s initial ban was part of a larger crisis response from Facebook in the wake of the Kenosha protests. Facebook faced a fair amount of slack for its failures to keep Kenosha-based militias from organizing on the platform. Banning all mention of Rittenhouse was meant to calm that crisis.
In the intervening months, Rittenhouse has not faded from the zeitgeist. He has instead become a darling of the far-right, encompassing the ultra-conservative movement’s violent dreams of the future. That idolization has happened even without being allowed to discuss him on Facebook.
Now, with his platform reinstated and his name made whole again, Rittenhouse is free to spread as much disinformation as he’d like. As is often the case, we probably won’t know the full effect of his unbanning until it’s too late.
We’ve gotta clarify these policies — The exact reason Facebook has reversed Rittenhouse’s ban is blurry. He’s been found not guilty, yes, but the original ban was not put in place because he had been charged. Rittenhouse was banned because he brought a gun to a protest and killed two people. That has not changed.
Facebook’s lack of clarity in this matter is nothing new, unfortunately. High-level ban decisions often follow logic not made specific in Facebook’s terms of service, making them both difficult to follow and difficult to enforce at scale. It’s a problem for which Facebook has received a slap on the wrist more than once. Nothing’s been done yet. The company is too busy experimenting with new uses for invasive biometric recognition tech or something.
Facebook has faced backlash from conservative voices in the U.S. for actions like banning Rittenhouse, especially in relation to ongoing legislative talks around Section 230 reform. Until Meta takes the time to clarify its policies, we’re doomed to just repeat this conversation until the end of time.