The Facebook social networking Web site is violating its own terms and conditions on incitement to hatred, The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs charged in a report released on Thursday.
"Facebook has through ignorance created an anti-Semitic policy platform where the only explicitly allowed hate is that, within certain parameters, directed against Jews," the report said.
The Web site "has watered down the provisions against various types of hateful content and dropped its promise to provide a 'safe place on the Internet,'" the report continued.
Dr. Andre Oboler, who compiled the report, told The Jerusalem Post, "I hope that this will help Facebook realize that there is a serious issue."
Late last year, the site was forced to reconsider its terms and conditions of use after receiving complaints from the Jewish Internet Defense Force and Christoph Gunkel, a German journalist.
The letter from the JIDF demanded that Facebook take offline five Holocaust-denial groups with names such as "Based on the facts... There was no Holocaust," "Holocaust: A series of Lies," and "Holocaust is a Myth."
Holocaust denial is illegal in 13 countries and banned in other countries under broader laws that prohibit racial vilification, but Facebook claims it is duty-bound to allow its users to upload such content in the name of "free speech."
The complaints helped generate public interest in Holocaust denial on the Web site, and consequently Facebook made a raft of changes to its terms and conditions.
Previously, words that were defined as derogatory, demeaning, offensive, harmful, defamatory, abusive, inflammatory, vulgar, obscene, fraudulent, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable were banned, but these strictures have now been deleted.
The reference to local, regional and national laws has also vanished.
According to the report from The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, "In May 2009, Facebook went into damage control in response to the media interest in Holocaust-denial groups it hosted... This occurred six months after Facebook was notified that such groups not only breached its Terms of Service but were illegal under national laws banning Holocaust denial in several countries."
"Unfortunately what Facebook did, combined with all these things that they've dropped - is a very big change in approach. Facebook was originally about providing a 'safe place on the Internet,' what with users having to register by school and be of a minimum age, but now it seems to be a site where anything goes," Oboler said.
"I really do hope that Facebook will reconsider the way in that they changed their approach. Holocaust denial is the tip of the iceberg, and while I would like them to recognize them it as hate speech, their whole approach to offensive content should be reconsidered," he said.
There's already been a massive reaction to Holocaust denial on Facebook, as seen by the almost 85,000 people around the world who have joined a pressure group called United Against Holocaust Denial, Oboler told the Post.
Facebook has rarely deleted groups and other pages on its Web site that host material denying the Holocaust, but according to The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs report, "Facebook as a private company does indeed have both the right and a moral obligation to remove this hateful content."
The report notes that earlier this year, Facebook was "forced to take a stand on the Holocaust-denial issue," and that Facebook became involved in "a lot of internal debate" following an assertion by Randi Zuckerberg, the site's marketing director (and sister of founder Mark Zuckerberg), who said it was "Facebook's policy to not remove groups that deny the Holocaust."
In a guest entry on Thursday on the American Jewish Committee's Z Word Blog (blog.z-word.com), Oboler warned against "the use of online social networking and content collaboration to share demonization, conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, and classical anti-Semitic motifs with a view to creating social acceptability for such content."
The report also cited Facebook's relative zealousness in removing pictures of breast-feeding mothers earlier this year, while leaving content denying the Holocaust online.
"Facebook's official response in the media has been to defend their right not to take action (unless legally required to) based on a 'free speech' argument. This came at the same time, and from the same spokesperson who made announcements about Facebook's crackdown on pictures of breast-feeding mothers as 'obscene' and therefore a violation of their Terms of Service," Oboler wrote.