Facebook bans posts denying and distorting the Holocaust

October 13, 2020 by  
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Facebook announced on Monday that it is banning posts that deny or distort the Holocaust.

Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote address at Facebook’s F8 2018 conference, on April 30, 2018. Photo: Anthony Quintano via Wikimedia Commons.

In a post on the social media site, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company is “updating our hate-speech policy to ban Holocaust denial.”

“We’ve long taken down posts that praise hate crimes or mass murder, including the Holocaust. But with rising anti-Semitism, we’re expanding our policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust as well,” he wrote. “If people search for the Holocaust on Facebook, we’ll start directing you to authoritative sources to get accurate information.”

In the post, Zuckerberg acknowledged that he’s “struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust.”

However, Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, wrote that his “own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech.”

“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,” he said.

Yad Vashem welcomed the announcement from Facebook to update their hate speech policy to prohibit all forms of Holocaust denial and distortion on its platform.

Yad Vashem has long stated that Holocaust denial and distortion are forms of antisemitism and should be classified as hate speech.

In a recent letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev indicated that antisemitism is not simply identifiable by keywords, phrases or algorithms but requires human understanding and sensitivities in recognizing and banning such posts. Furthermore, Shalev wrote how “education is a vital way of fighting Holocaust distortion and antisemitism.” Accordingly, Yad Vashem supports Facebook’s initiative of directing its users to credible and fact-based content sources, such as Yad Vashem’s comprehensive website in eight languages, as a significant step in the right direction.

“We encourage Facebook to do its utmost and implement these new policies, which we hope, in time, will help fight against all forms of antisemitism, hatred and bigotry, which plague us both on and offline,” states Director of Yad Vashem Communications Division Iris Rosenberg.

Co-CEO of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry Peter Wertheim told J-Wire: “This is very welcome news.  In August, the ECAJ joined with some 130 organisations from around the world in co-signing an open letter to the Board of Directors of Facebook urging the platform to fully adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism as the cornerstone of Facebook’s hate speech policy regarding antisemitism.

In August we also met with the Director of Policy for Facebook in Australia and New Zealand, and two other senior Facebook executives.  In addition to pressing them to agree that Facebook will accept the IHRA working definition of antisemitism as a benchmark, we also discovered that even senior Facebook executives have large gaps in their knowledge about the history of antisemitism that would make it difficult for them to apply the IHRA working definition, even if they accepted that definition as the standard.  The same applies to Holocaust denial, minimisation and relativisation. We need to help fill those knowledge gaps.

I will be participating in a “combatting online hate” group meeting with Facebook this Thursday.”

Commenting on Facebook’s announcement, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder declared, “By taking the critical step to remove Holocaust denial content, Facebook is showing that it recognizes Holocaust denial for what it truly is – a form of antisemitism and therefore hate speech.

“Denying the Holocaust, trivializing it, minimizing it, is a tool used to spread hatred and false conspiracies about Jews and other minorities. Today’s announcement sends a strong message that Facebook will not allow its platform to be misused to promote hate.

“Throughout the course of World Jewish Congress’ engagement with Facebook, the company has consistently shown an understanding of its responsibility to serve as a positive force and lead by example as the world’s largest social media platform. This decision demonstrates what can happen when we allow ourselves to learn, adapt, and make bold choices.

“WJC recognizes and is grateful for the fruitful cooperation leading to this positive result. We look forward to building upon this positive momentum and continuing to work together to eradicate all hate speech – against the Jews and other minority communities – from social media. We call on all social media companies to take concrete action against Holocaust denial so that the phrase ‘Never Again’ rings true.”

For several years, the World Jewish Congress has advocated for Facebook to remove Holocaust denial content from its platform and has worked with the social media company’s policy teams to review such posts and classify them as hate speech under the company’s community standards. In recent months, Facebook has taken important strides to address the rise of hate speech including the banning of other conspiracies.

Dvir Abramovich Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission said: “This is a victory for the memory of the victims, for the heroic survivors and their families, and for humanity. For too long, Facebook has allowed antisemitic and racist material that denied and distorted the facts about the Holocaust to stain its pages.

Now, it has heard our concerns, and the alarm raised by many around the world and has decided to use its global reach and power for good.

This righteous decision, made at a critical time when the threat of antisemitism is at record levels, is a blow to the solar-plexus of white-supremacists and neo-Nazis who have weaponised this platform to perpetuate their poisonous ideology, hate speech and conspiracy theories. This new policy will be vital in our continuing battle against digital antisemitism as well as our efforts in educating present and future generations about the Nazi genocide. We hope that Facebook will use all of its resources to enforce this new policy to ensure that these evil people, and their dangerous agenda, are kicked off quickly. We also urge other social media companies to follow suit and to expunge such materials from
their pages.”

Dr Andre Oboler, CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute and a member of the Australian Government’s Delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance told J-Wire: “Facebook’s move to ban Holocaust denial and distortion is earth-shattering. It’s the removal of the last hold out of stubbornness from a time when Facebook was young, revelling in its own importance, and oblivious to its impact on society.
I rang the first alarm bells on Holocaust denial on Facebook in 2008, led the international expert meetings which first challenged them directly on it 2011, and received the first copy of what became their standard response.
Having spent more than a quarter of my life hammering away on this issue, to see it finally happen leaves me stunned. It’s not that Facebook didn’t have expert advise on this before, it’s not that Facebook suddenly realised Holocaust denial was wrong, what’s changed is Facebook itself and the expectations fo society. What we see today is a humbler and more open Facebook. It is a Facebook that sees itself as a part of society, rather than a sovereign that imposes itself on society. That’s a welcome change and signals a brighter future for both the company and society.”

“Facebook’s decision to ban Holocaust denial and distortion postings is profoundly significant,” said American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris in a statement.

“With knowledge of the systematic Nazi murder of 6 million Jews waning in the United States and around the world, particularly among young people, the power and credibility of Facebook are vital to preserving the facts of the most documented genocide in history, and helping maintain the guardrails against any possible recurrence,” he continued. “There shouldn’t be a sliver of doubt about what the Nazi German regime did, nor should such a mega-platform as Facebook be used by anti-Semites to peddle their grotesque manipulation of history.”

“Denying the Holocaust has never been about free speech, but only as a tool for genocide-seeking Iran, neo-Nazis and bigots to demean the dead and threaten the living,” said Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in a statement. “At a time when the Internet is awash with fake news and technological tools that enable governments and virtually anyone to manipulate information, we welcome Facebook’s change of policy to stand with historic fact and the 6 million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany during World War II.”


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