THE DAY KYLE RITTENHOUSE SHOT THREE PEOPLE, killing two of them, during anti-police-brutality protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a Facebook event page by a group calling itself Kenosha Guard urged people to come to the city with guns to protect property. A founder of the group called the announcement a “general call to arms.” Their page was touted by Infowars, and though multiple people reported it for promotion of violence, it wasn’t taken down until after the killings. Less than a week earlier, after years of reporting about Facebook’s extremism problem, the company had announced it would do more about violent militia content.
Facebook said it had no indication that Rittenhouse had seen the Kenosha Guard event page, but it speaks to what the site has become: a repository, if not a promoter, of violent dissension and extremism. Having shed its (never-quite-accurate) reputation as the land of stale boomer memes and your high school friend’s baby photos, Facebook is now a place where it’s as convenient to assemble a militia gathering as it is to share video of murders committed by one of the militia’s ideological fellow-travelers. And the company seems to have no coherent plan to change this.
Even after Rittenhouse’s arrest and indictment for double murder, Facebook is struggling to prevent its platform from being used to celebrate and promote his acts. The Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong found that a fundraiser for Rittenhouse was shared more than 17,700 times, in violation of Facebook’s rules that prohibit praise or support of mass shooters. As Wong also reported, the social network is riven with pro-Rittenhouse memes, groups, and pages, with video stills of the shootings spreading widely. The same is true of Instagram, where there are hashtags and entire accounts in support of the accused killer. Memes celebrating the deaths of protesters were liked tens of thousands of times