President Peres in the lion’s den
Facebook's position on Holocaust denial is arbitrary and confusing.
Facebook's Chris Cox Photo: REUTERS
On Tuesday, March 6, 2012, President Shimon Peres will visit Facebook, a company
which refuses to recognize Holocaust denial as a form of incitement to hatred.
While there, he will launch two Facebook pages for the President of Israel and
meet with Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. Dare he raise the issue
of Holocaust denial? Facebook’s position on Holocaust denial is arbitrary and
confused. It does not regard Holocaust denial as hateful in its own right, but
recognizes many of the comments posted in denial groups, such as calls for a new
genocide of the Jews, as hateful.
Facebook defends its current policy by
arguing it regularly shuts down Holocaust denial groups because of these
comments. The anti-Semitic groups, however, persist.
A quick search
conducted while writing this article uncovered, as usual, a number of Holocaust
denial groups and pages on Facebook. The first was an Arabic-language group
“happy Holocaust day” that called on members to celebrate the Holocaust to
morally support Hamas.
The second, titled “Holocaust Lies Exposed,” is
dedicated to showing that “the holocaust, as described by the jews [sic], is
full of lies, myths and misconceptions, used to instil white guilt upon the
world.” This group blatantly stated: “We don’t believe that 6 million jews [sic]
died, nor that there ever was an organized plan effected to collectively
Then there were the pages based on the theme,
“Everybody draw Holocaust day.” These pages use the Facebook platform to keep
the cartoons from the Iranian Holocaust denial competition in circulation, and
to add new anti-Semitic cartoons that present Jews as evil, call for Israel’s
destruction, promote Holocaust denial and defend Holocaust
Shimon Peres has long been a fan of Facebook. Four years ago,
after meeting Mark Zuckerberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos, President
Peres urged young people to fight anti-Semitism using Facebook. At the
time Andre Oboler warned that, “Facebook is not only a potentially effective
tool for combating anti-Semitism, it is also a dangerously potent tool for
promoting the spread of anti-Semitism and anti- Zionism.”
In those four
years, Facebook has grown from a community of 50 million users, mostly students,
to a community of 850 million users from all walks of life. Both the threat and
opportunity remain, and the stakes continue to grow exponentially.
Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism, a
global network under the leadership of the State of Israel, has met with
Facebook staff and exchanged letters with the company over the problem of
Holocaust denial. This followed failed efforts by many leading organizations
that fight anti-Semitism, as well as efforts by many academic experts to
convince Facebook that their position is sadly mistaken.
drawn an artificial distinction between generic forms of expression of hatred,
which they ban, and Holocaust denial, a specific form of incitement to hatred,
which they should ban, but do not.
In the US, Holocaust denial is
recognized as a form of hate. Because incitement to hatred is protected under
the First Amendment, Congress cannot pass laws to prevent it. Facebook,
on the other hand, can and does prohibit the use of its service to promote hate.
As a private company it has that right.
By refusing to accept that
Holocaust denial is a form of hate, Facebook lends legitimacy to the deniers and
strikes against a human rights consensus. Holocaust denial attempts to murder
the victims a second time by killing their memory. Facebook must change
its policy so the software platform does not facilitate this.
feel such a policy change would be more than symbolic. A new policy for
Facebook would not only be morally correct, it would make life much easier for
Facebook staff, as it is easier to recognize a page or group dedicated to
Holocaust denial than it is to trawl through it to find references calling for
the murder of Jews. Facebook, which bans pictures of breast-feeding mothers,
does not need to make the hurdles so high when it comes to the hatred of
If Facebook insists that it is doing everything it can, and that a
policy change would be symbolic only, perhaps a symbolic request from the
President of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, would be enough prompting to
make that change. If not, President Peres, statesman, visionary and Nobel Peace
Prize Laureate, needs to have a frank heart-to-heart with Mark Zuckerberg. It
would be a heart-to-heart under the watchful gaze of six million souls who no
Jew ought to ignore. These are the missing generations whose memory the State of
Israel has a sacred duty to protect. Mr. President, as you stand in the halls of
this powerful company that denies the hateful nature of Holocaust denial, what
will you say?
The writers are co-chairs of the Online Antisemitism Working Group
of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism.