Facebook has blocked searches for the name of the accused Kenosha protest shooter, following scrutiny over the platform’s failure to remove a militia group’s call for violence at the event. Searches for Kyle Rittenhouse’s name currently yield zero results, after some Facebook users had complained about being deluged with posts praising him.
Rittenhouse, 17, allegedly opened fire on protesters at a Kenosha, Wisconsin Black Lives Matter rally in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Two people were killed in the shooting. On Tuesday, police arrested Rittenhouse in his home state of Illinois, where he was charged with first-degree intentional homicide. He is scheduled for an extradition hearing on Friday.
On Facebook, Rittenhouse expressed an obsession with pro-police causes, including Blue Lives Matter and Back the Blue. In videos posted on his profile, he can be seen posing with guns and engaging in target practice. Facebook has since removed Rittenhouse’s profile, a spokesperson for Facebook tells Rolling Stone.
In the hours following the shooting, various right-wing pundits and extremist groups have praised Rittenhouse as a hero, framing him as a vigilante who took action against unruly protesters. On his TV show, Fox News host Tucker Carlson defended the shooter’s actions, saying, “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?,” comments that prompted outraged social media users to call for Fox News to cancel his show; in a tweet, Ann Coulter said she wanted Rittenhouse as her “president.” Numerous crowdfunding campaigns for Rittenhouse have popped up following his arrest. (Two such campaigns on GoFundMe and Fundly have since been taken down.)
Because Facebook designated Rittenhouse as a mass shooter, it removed his profile and took steps to remove posts praising him. It has not, however, removed videos of Carlson defending Rittenhouse’s actions.
Facebook has been under intense scrutiny after the Verge reported that it failed to take action against a pro-militia group called the Kenosha Guard, which was replete with comments urging attendees to take arms against protesters. At least two Facebook users had reported the group for violating Facebook’s policy against inciting violence, yet the platform did not remove the group until after the shooting. Last week, the platform announced that it would be specifically focused on removing pro-militia Facebook groups, as well as other extremist groups and accounts, in an expansion of its anti-violence policy.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Facebook said that it had found no evidence “at this time” that the Kenosha shooting or Rittenhouse were connected to the Facebook page. “However, the Kenosha Guard Page and their Event Page violated our new policy addressing militia organizations and have been removed on that basis,” the spokesperson says.
Civil rights and racial justice groups were not satisfied by Facebook’s statement. “The growing presence of white nationalist groups in this country cannot be met with a passive response from the most powerful social media company in the world,” Color of Change president Rashad Robinson said in a statement. “This crisis of hate-fueled violence requires immediate, drastic action from Facebook and all other platforms on which these groups gather.”