The Kyle Rittenhouse case is indeed a curious and contentious one. The 17-year-old is charged with two counts of homicide after a shooting during riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The first reports focused on the fact that he’d driven up from Illinois and had numerous pro-police and pro-Trump posts on his social media accounts, which seemed to cement in place a narrative about a far-right mass shooter who’d traveled to Kenosha for blood.
What came out in the days following the shooting made the narrative a bit more complex.
Video compiled by The New York Times’ visual investigations team (WARNING: graphic link) shows Rittenhouse was being chased at the time of the shooting and that a gun was fired into the air from behind him. One individual seems to have lunged at him, prompting him to fire. He tried to flee the scene and allegedly killed another man when he was rushed by multiple individuals; he fell and fired shots, killing the second person.
Rittenhouse says he acted in self-defense. While he’s yet to enter a plea, according to The Wall Street Journal, it’s safe to assume he’ll be pleading not guilty — which means we’ll likely be looking at a trial that’ll be a cultural flash-point, no matter how you feel about it.
If you support Kyle Rittenhouse, however — or even if you just don’t believe he’s guilty of the charges he faces, no matter what you think of his motives as an individual — you’re probably not going to be able to talk about it on Facebook. That’s because the platform has already decided Rittenhouse’s actions constituted “mass murder” and will take down messages of support for the accused.
The social media giant confirmed its position to Breitbart News after conservative YouTube personality Mike Dice had a post about Rittenhouse taken down. The post didn’t praise Rittenhouse’s actions in allegedly killing the two men or say he wasn’t guilty, it merely pointed to a video where he’s providing aid to a demonstrator and posited that meant “he had no malicious intent by showing up” to the event.
Dice tweeted about the removal on Tuesday.
WARNING: The following video contains vulgar language that some viewers may find offensive:
“Newly uncovered video of Kyle Rittenhouse shows him helping an injured protester after she was struck in the foot with a projectile,” Dice’s Aug. 28 Facebook post read.
“In another video he told the cameraman that he brought a medical kit, which is the bag he was carrying. Further proving he had no malicious intent by showing up. In fact, he was there to help anyone who needed it.”
Dice also posted these screen shots showing messages he had apparently received from Facebook, in which the social media giant claimed that he had violated its standards on “dangerous individuals and organizations” and that his “[p]age is at risk of being unpublished because of continued Community Standards violations.”
There might be some question, if you’re reading this and somewhat familiar with Dice’s background, whether this was a case of specifically targeting Dice himself over Rittenhouse.
In addition to his otherwise-vanilla YouTube videos, Dice has promoted conspiracy theories on the 9/11 attacks being an inside job, the 2015 Jade Helm 15 military exercises being a pretext for martial law in America and the Illuminati’s influence in the entertainment industry.
Indeed, this would have been an easy out if Facebook wanted to equivocate. It didn’t.
“We’ve designated the shooting in Kenosha a mass murder and are removing posts in support of the shooter, including this one,” a Facebook spokesman told Breitbart.
Dice said he had been deliberately careful with what he posted about Rittenhouse, however, because he figured the 17-year-old been added to Facebook’s “dangerous individuals” list.
You don’t necessarily have to be considered a murderer to be a “dangerous individual.” Others who’ve found their way onto the list include Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan and Milo Yiannopoulos, according to The Associated Press.
“[The posts] were all very matter of fact about what happened. No praise, nor celebration, nothing like that because I figured that they added Kyle to the ‘dangerous individual’ [list],” Dice said. “I was very careful about what I posted.”
This actually wasn’t news if you were looking, however. As early as Aug. 27, two days after the shooting, The Verge reported that searches for “Kyle Rittenhouse” were coming back blank on Facebook, including for details about the shootings.
“It’s not actually new,” a Facebook representative told The Verge. “We block searches for a ton of stuff — for instance, child exploitation content.”
Facebook had issued a previous statement, The Verge noted: “We’ve designated this shooting as a mass murder and have removed the shooter’s accounts from Facebook and Instagram.”
Removing Rittenhouse’s accounts from Facebook and Instagram is a far cry from treating every instance of support for Rittenhouse as support for mass murder, however, particularly when the case hasn’t even moved to the plea stage.
This goes beyond whether or not you find Rittenhouse to be a sympathetic figure or what you think of his motivations.
If Facebook’s policy is taken to its logical conclusion, this means any time you post publicly about the Rittenhouse case and someone finds your post too skeptical of his guilt, it can be removed. This is a far cry from removing problematic or trollish posts about the shooting.
There’s a question as to whether or not this is Facebook’s pendulum swinging in the opposite direction in the face of criticism. An Aug. 26 report from The Verge cited Facebook users who had complained about the Kenosha Guard, the so-called “militia” that organized a counterprotest in Kenosha — on the same night that Rittenhouse allegedly killed two men — in part via a Facebook event listing, and were told the group hadn’t violated any rules.
There’s no evidence that the event listing had been viewed by Rittenhouse, but it generated more controversy on the left that Facebook wasn’t doing enough to combat elements on the fringe right.
The response shouldn’t be the largest social media company on Earth declaring Rittenhouse’s guilt to be a fait accompli, however, thereby skipping the whole due process part.
We know social media drives the cultural conversation on a whole panoply of topics.
At a basic level, however, we should all agree it shouldn’t drive the conversation on a 17-year-old’s guilt or innocence, no matter what we may think of the case.