Is Facebook in denial about Holocaust denial?
For years, international organizations opposing anti-Semitism have been urging the planet’s preeminent social-networking platform to delete any content that asserts the Nazi-orchestrated extermination of 6 million Jews never took place.
And for years, officials of Facebook, boasting more than 750 million active users, have refused, insisting that mere denial of the Holocaust, however “repugnant and ignorant,” doesn’t constitute “hate speech” as defined by Facebook’s Terms of Service policy prohibiting “content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” […]
Facebook’s critics — including such groups as the Anti-Defamation League and the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, which describes itself as an Israeli-led “alliance of statesmen, parliamentarians, diplomats, journalists, legal experts, NGOs and scholars” — argue that Holocaust denial is, by definition, an expression of hatred for the Jewish people.
“Holocaust denial is basically a form of classic anti-Semitism,” said Deborah Lauter, ADL’s director of civil rights and its cyber-hate response team. “It’s anti-Semitism per se because it serves as a powerful conspiracy theory that basically says the Jews have manipulated history to advance their own worldview, whether to create sympathy or world domination. In other words, we have fabricated this monstrous event in history in order to further our own hidden agenda.”
Facebook spokesman Simon Axten doesn’t see it that way.
“We find Holocaust denial to be repugnant and ignorant, just as we object to many of the other ideas expressed on Facebook,” Axten told me via email this week. “We’ve come to the conclusion that the mere statement of denying the Holocaust is not a violation of our policies. We recognize people’s right to be factually wrong about historical events.”
But the issue bubbled up anew last month when a group of survivors of the Nazi death camps wrote to Facebook asking that the company’s broad-minded policy be reversed. It came up again on Tuesday, when Australian computer scientist Andre Oboler and Canadian lawyer David Matas, co-chairmen of the Global Forum’s Online Anti-Semitism Working Group, released a letter they sent to Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg after they attended what Oboler calls a “frustrating” video conference with an executive of Facebook’s European operations. The Facebook exec politely listened to the group’s concerns, Oboler told me from Melbourne, then reiterated the company line.