Facebook has explicitly banned Holocaust denial for the first time.
The social network said its new policy prohibits “any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust”.
Mark Zuckerberg’s Statement
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg wrote that he had “struggled with the tension” between free speech and banning such posts, but that “this is the right balance”.
Two years ago, Mr Zuckerberg said that such posts should not automatically be taken down for “getting it wrong”.
While Zuckerberg later clarified that he “personally” finds denial “deeply offensive,” regarding deniers, he has gotten things about history’s best documented genocide wrong, very wrong.
What Zuckerberg fails to understand — even though he claims this was not his aim — is that by saying deniers aren’t “intentionally” getting things wrong, he leaves open the possibility that they could be right. For someone with Zuckerberg’s massive profile and platform, this is breathtakingly irresponsible. Holocaust denial relies on such a robust set of illogical untruths that it is only possible to be a denier on purpose, contrary to what Zuckerberg says, intentionally.
For deniers to be right, who would have to be wrong? Survivors would have to be wrong — as well as bystanders, those non-Jews who lived in the cities and villages in eastern and western Europe and watched their Jewish neighbors being marched away to be shot and killed in freshly dug ditches in the woods. The scores of historians who have studied the Holocaust since 1945 would either have to be part of a massive conspiracy or have been completely duped.
But, above all, the perpetrators, some of whom have admitted their guilt, would have to be wrong. How can deniers explain that in not one war-crimes trial since the end of World War II has a perpetrator of any nationality denied that these events occurred? They may have said, “I was forced to kill,” but not one asserted that the killing did not happen.
“I’m Jewish and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened,” he told Recode at the time.
“I find it deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”
His remarks led to a large public backlash.
Hate Speech Control
But on Monday, as Facebook changed its policies, he wrote that he had changed his mind.
“My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech,” he wrote in a public Facebook post.
“Drawing the right lines between what is and isn’t acceptable speech isn’t straightforward, but with the current state of the world, I believe this is the right balance.”
Earlier this year, Facebook banned hate speech involving harmful stereotypes, including anti-Semitic content. But Holocaust denial had not been banned.
Facebook’s vice-president of content policy, Monika Bickert, said the company had made the decision alongside “the well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally and the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people”.
She said that later this year, searching for the Holocaust – or its denial – on Facebook would direct users to “credible” information.
But she also warned change would not happen overnight, and training its employees and automated systems would take time.
The World Jewish Congress – which had conferred with Facebook on anti-Semitism – welcomed the move.
“Denying the Holocaust, trivializing it, minimizing it, is a tool used to spread hatred and false conspiracies about Jews and other minorities,” the group said in a statement.
But it also noted that it had campaigned for the removal of Holocaust denial content from the platform “for several years”.
Years In The Making
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted: “This has been years in the making.”
“Having personally engaged with Facebook on the issue, I can attest the ban on Holocaust Denial is a big deal… glad it finally happened.”
This was a bit of a “wait, they don’t do this already?” moment.
Perhaps that’s because Facebook has quite radically shifted its position on removing hate speech and fake news in recent months.
We’re still seeing loopholes from an old moderating regime being closed.
Critics, though, argue this isn’t happening fast enough.
The combined platforms of Facebook and Instagram – which is owned by Facebook – have an extraordinary reach of billions of users worldwide.
That influence has to be used responsibly, and Facebook acknowledges this.
The advertising boycott in July also helped cement the view internally that more had to be done to tackle hate speech.
Mark Zuckerberg’s instincts have always been to champion freedom of speech – the best way to fight bad speech is good speech he’s always said.
But this latest move appears to indicate Facebook now accepts it needs to be more proactive in combating hate speech.