Facebook to remove Holocaust denial content from social media platform

Mark Zuckerberg said he has long struggled with finding the balance between freedom of speech and the harm of Holocaust denial.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on stage during a town hall at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California September 27, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on stage during a town hall at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California September 27, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
 Facebook will remove Holocaust denial content from the social media platform, the company announced on Monday. This will prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, said that he long struggled with finding the right balance between freedom of speech “and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust.”
“My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in antisemitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech,” he wrote in a post. “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... That it would be banning Holocaust denial as part of an update to their hate speech policy.”

Today we're updating our hate speech policy to ban Holocaust denial. We've long taken down posts that praise hate...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, October 12, 2020

As such, more than 250 white supremacist organizations have been banned by Facebook and policies have been updated to “address militia groups and QAnon.” Facebook announced that with these changes, they have altogether taken down 22.5 million “pieces” of hate speech of some kind or another within the second quarter of the year.
Facebook also recognized the significant rise in antisemitism globally in their announcement of the updated policies, as well as the “alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust.” They have therefore decided to redirect those who search on the website for subjects relating to the Holocaust to outside sources which provide educational material on the genocide.
“According to a recent survey of adults in the US aged 18-39, almost a quarter said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, that it had been exaggerated or they weren’t sure,” Facebook announced following the decision.
Facebook has long been under pressure to ban Holocaust denial. In 2018, Paul Packer, chairman of the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, confronted the company’s leadership over the policy, sending the company a pointed letter and receiving Facebook’s vice president of global public policy for a contentious meeting.
Facebook said on Monday that it worked to understand the problem of antisemitism and Holocaust denial in conjunction with the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Community Security Trust, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The social media giant warned that “enforcement of these policies cannot happen overnight” and that, due to the wide range of content that may be considered Holocaust denial, it would take time for the system, as well as the reviewers employed with the company, to take note and heed to these updated guidelines.
The World Jewish Congress (WJC) lauded the decision by Facebook. “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,” WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said in response. “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.”
The Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) welcomed Facebook’s announcement, announcing that it follows a meeting between representatives of the movement and Facebook representatives.
“We have met with Facebook’s senior figures on this issue over the last year, and we are greatly encouraged by this move,” CAM Director Sacha Roytman-Dratwa said. “Their landmark decision, however, comes with great responsibility. The world’s most important social media platform is sending a message that Holocaust denial, and the hateful offence it causes is well beyond the realms of free speech.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, too, has recognized the change in policy.
“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 Founder and CEO Rabbi Marvin Hier, along with Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Rabbi Abraham Cooper. “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 WWII.”
“Facebook’s decision to ban Holocaust denial and distortion postings is profoundly significant,” said American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris after Facebook made the announcement. “With knowledge of the systematic Nazi murder of six 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.”
“Having personally engaged with @Facebook on the issue, I can attest the ban on Holocaust Denial is a big deal,” said Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “Glad it finally happened.”
“This decision, long overdue, confirms that Facebook has finally accepted what we and other organizations have repeatedly made clear; that Holocaust denial is not just a form of misinformation but is itself a form of hate speech, inextricably tied to the most vile antisemitism,” said the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Marie van der Zyl. “We hope that Facebook will follow up on this encouraging decision by adopting the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, in recognition that online is the new front line against Jew hate.”
The Israeli-American Council said that it calls "on all social media platforms to follow Facebook’s example and join the fight against antisemitism and Holocaust denial."
The Israel Democracry Institute (IDI) said that it had worked in collaboration with Yad Vashem to create a set of recommended guidelines for Facebook to take. Facebook, in the announcement of the new guidelines, said that it had seen guidance on the subject from Yad Vashem.
Yad Vashem acknowledged their part in the new policy, announcing that the museum's chairman, Avner Shalev, had recently written to Zuckerberg, calling on him to make the change.
"With technology advancing at a dizzying pace, we must all work together to implant balanced policies that guarantee and protect freedom of expression while ensuring that Holocaust denial always remains completely beyond the pale," Dr. Tehilla Schwartz Altshuler, a senior fellow of the IDI, said in response to the decision. "We particularly want to recognize the vital contributions to these efforts by Jordana Cutler, Facebook Israel's Head of Policy, who was tasked recently with the important mission of overseeing the fight against antisemitism at Facebook."
Finally, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum commended the social media giant's decision. "Freedom of speech is vital to our democracy, but it does not require any organization to host antisemitic speech that can potentially foment violence," it said in a statement.