Facebook exerts dangerous power over public discourse — and Exhibit A is the tech giant’s censorship of commentary on the Kyle Rittenhouse case, a media critic told The Post Saturday.
Rittenhouse was acquitted Friday of all charges against him stemming from the shooting of three men during riots in Kenosha, Wisc., last August. Two of those men, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, died of their injuries. Rittenhouse acted in lawful self-defense, a Wisconsin jury ruled.
Though Rittenhouse is legally presumed innocent until proven otherwise, the court of Facebook was considerably less impartial.
“One of the big things that they did was manipulate the search engine so you couldn’t even find any references to Kyle Rittenhouse,” Dan Gainor, vice president of the Media Research Center, told The Post. “They’re out of touch with normal people.”
But it didn’t only restrict search content for Rittenhouse — it actively policed its users for pro-Rittenhouse posts.
Public messages supporting Rittenhouse — some using the phrase “Free Kyle” — were removed. Even legal analysis arguing the merits of his self-defense case disappeared.
“We’ve designated the shooting in Kenosha a mass murder and are removing posts in support of the shooter,” Facebook said at the time.
“We don’t allow symbols, praise or support of dangerous individuals or organizations on Facebook. We define dangerous as things like: terrorist activity, organized hate or violence, mass or serial murder, human trafficking, criminal or harmful activity,” the company has said elsewhere of the case.
“Its dangerous that they have this much power over what can be discussed in a public forum,” Gainor said. “They could prevent free elections in every free country in the world if they wanted to.”
Even among some of the company’s left-leaning employees, the heavy hand didn’t sit well. In internal discussions obtained by The Post one Facebook employee accused his colleagues of abusing the censorious power of their platform when it came to protests in Kenosha following the shooting.
“The rioting has been going on for over three months and it’s only an issue now because people inside the company saw violence they didn’t like,” the staffer said. “Employees are drunk on the absolute power of being in control of civics in America, without ever having to visit a voting booth (if voting is even an option).”
Facebook was far from alone in prejudging the outcome and was only the most visible of Big Tech’s hidden hand to influence events. Twitter too suspended people who dared to say Rittenhouse was innocent — including his own attorney.
The fundraising platform GoFundMe refused to allow Rittenhouse fans to raise money for his legal defense. They later reversed the position after his acquittal.
The New York Times pulled their punches too. The Gray Lady refused to run an article documenting the devastation to lives and business in Kenosha until after the 2020 presidential election, according to the story’s author, Nellie Bowles.
Bowles said she was sent to report on the “mainstream liberal argument” that vandalizing buildings for racial justice was not detrimental because businesses had insurance.
“It turned out to be not true,” Bowles wrote. “The part of Kenosha that people burned in the riots was the poor, multi-racial commercial district, full of small, underinsured cell phone shops and car lots. It was very sad to see and to hear from people who had suffered.”
Some observers have defended Facebook, saying the company had been correct to rein in the free speech of its users.
“The protests and the riots were different from going and shooting somebody with a gun, so I don’t see any comparison between the two,” said Sree Sreenivasan, the Marshall Loeb professor of Digital Innovation at Stonybrook School of Communication and Journalism.