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Meta is reversing policy that kept Kyle Rittenhouse from Facebook and Instagram

Kyle Rittenhouse, pictured at his trial on Nov. 19, can rejoin Facebook and Instagram, Meta announced on Wednesday.
Sean Krajacic
Kyle Rittenhouse, pictured at his trial on Nov. 19, can rejoin Facebook and Instagram, Meta announced on Wednesday.

Updated December 14, 2021 at 8:46 PM ET

Kyle Rittenhouse is free to log back on to his Facebook and Instagram accounts and his supporters are once again free to offer praise about him on the platforms.

Officials for Facebook parent company Meta said on Wednesday that they have reversed a policy that suspended Rittenhouse's social media accounts and blocked his name in certain searches back August 2020, days after he fatally shot two people and injured another during last summer's racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wis.

Last month, Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges, including three homicide charges and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment.

"After the verdict in Kenosha we have rolled back the restrictions we had in place that limited search results from returning content related to key terms including Kyle Rittenhouse," Andy Stone, a Meta spokesman said in a statement.

For more than a year, searches for the shooter's name came up empty, pulling up blank pages. And links to sites collecting donations for his legal representation led nowhere. But those roadblocks are now gone.

"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," Stone said, adding that the limits were lifted given how much time has passed and the level of public interest in the trial.

Should he choose to return to Instagram or Facebook, Rittenhouse could create new accounts or request that Meta restore the existing ones, but will be subject to their respective community standards.

As of Wednesday afternoon, he had not rejoined either platform.

Some news outlets, conservative lawmakers, gun rights activists and far-right groups slammed Facebook's decision to block Rittenhouse-related searches. And the company faced strong backlash after the former director of its Dangerous Individuals and Organizations division, Brian Fishman, said an internal investigation had designated the deadly encounter as a "mass murder."

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board called the Rittenhouse policy an "alarming resort to censorship" and said Facebook had threatened Rittenhouse's right to due process.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) echoed similar sentiments just hours after a jury announced it had found Rittenhouse not guilty on all counts.

"Big Tech think they're above the law," Hawley, a vocal critic of social media giants, toldFox Business. "They made up their minds on this case months ago, sought to deny Kyle Rittenhouse the presumption of innocence and censored those who disagreed."

On Wednesday, Meta officials acknowledge it will be difficult to monitor new comments about Rittenhouse and his victims given the broad level of interest in him and his acquittal. The company is encouraging users to report content that violates their terms of service.

Editor's note: Facebook is among NPR's recent financial supporters.

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Corrected: December 14, 2021 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier version of this story quoted a tweet by Facebook's Brian Fishman as saying Facebook designated the Rittenhouse incident a mass shooting. In fact the tweet says it was designated as a mass murder.
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.