Facebook will now ban content denying the Holocaust

13 Oct 2020

Image: © Jirapong/Stock.adobe.com

Facebook’s major policy change on Holocaust denail comes after almost a decade of lobbying from civil rights groups.

On Monday (12 October), Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company has updated its hate speech policy to prohibit content that denies or distorts facts about the Holocaust.

Zuckerberg explained that his stance has changed after years of insistence that freedom of expression is core to Facebook’s values. He said that the platform has “long taken down posts” that praise hate crimes or mass murder, including the Holocaust, but it is now extending that to include Holocaust denial.

In addition to removing the content, Zuckerberg said that Facebook will now direct users to authoritative sources to get accurate information if they search for the Holocaust on the social media platform.

“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimising or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” he wrote. “My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence.”

A welcomed move

The policy change comes after almost a decade of lobbying on the topic from civil rights groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL said it is “relieved” that Facebook has reconsidered its stance.

Jonathan A Greenblatt, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “At ADL, we tracked more anti-Semitic incidents in the US in 2019 than at any other point in the past 40 years.

“Similar trends in Europe are also troubling. And there is no doubt that the persistence of anti-Jewish content on Facebook even in the face of such anguish has contributed to the problem.”

‘Drawing the right lines between what is and isn’t acceptable speech isn’t straightforward’

While Greenblatt welcomed the news, he warned that this decision is only good if it is properly enforced.

“Facebook now needs to reassure the global community that it is taking meaningful and comprehensive steps to ensure that Holocaust deniers are no longer able to take advantage of Facebook’s various platforms to spread anti-Semitism and hate.”

Facebook’s new policy

In a blogpost, Facebook vice-president of content policy Monika Bickert further explained that the decision to update the policy comes as research into trends on hate speech are revealing an increase in online attacks against groups worldwide.

Bickert said that Facebook has banned more than 250 white supremacist organisations and has updated its policies to address militia groups and QAnon in recent weeks.

“We also routinely ban other individuals and organisations globally, and we took down 22.5m pieces of hate speech from our platform in the second quarter of this year.

“Following a year of consultation with external experts, we recently banned anti-Semitic stereotypes about the collective power of Jews that often depicts them running the world or its major institutions.”

Bickert also cited a recent survey of adults in the US aged 18 to 39, where almost a quarter said that the Holocaust was a myth, that it had been exaggerated or that they weren’t sure about it.

“Institutions focused on Holocaust research and remembrance, such as Yad Vashem, have noted that Holocaust education is also a key component in combatting anti-Semitism. Beginning later this year, we will direct anyone to credible information off Facebook if they search for terms associated with the Holocaust or its denial on our platform.”

Facebook’s history

In his announcement, Zuckerberg said that “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”.

However, the Facebook boss previously said that the company should not intervene against Holocaust denial in an interview published by Recode in 2018. He said that while he personally found Holocaust denial “deeply offensive” as a Jewish person, “there are things that different people get wrong”.

In the interview, Zuckerberg said: “What we will do is we’ll say, ‘Ok, you have your page, and if you’re not trying to organise harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive’.”

Zuckerberg later clarified his comments to say: “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic