Zuckerberg walks back Holocaust denial stance

Jewish groups decry Facebook CEO's decision to not delete such posts.

Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Facebook's annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California (photo credit: STEPHEN LAM / REUTERS)
Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Facebook's annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California
(photo credit: STEPHEN LAM / REUTERS)
After Jewish groups slammed Mark Zuckerberg over his comments on Holocaust denial, the Facebook CEO somewhat walked back his earlier statement.
“I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that,” he told a reporter from Recode on Wednesday afternoon.
Zuckerberg was doing damage control after a podcast interview he did with the site on Tuesday began picking up steam. In the original interview, Zuckerberg was discussing Facebook’s policy on removing posts from the social media platform for being false.
In explaining why Facebook would choose to “reduce the distribution” of fake or incorrect content, as opposed to deleting it entirely, Zuckerberg brought up the Holocaust.
“I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened,” the Facebook CEO said. “I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”
Recode reporter Kara Swisher interrupted to say that they very well might be intentionally getting it wrong. But Zuckerberg added, “It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly... I just don’t think that it is the right thing to say, ‘We’re going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.’”
The Facebook founder’s comments drew swift and harsh ire from several Jewish groups. Many focused specifically on Zuckerberg’s intention – which he did not walk back – to not remove such posts from the social media platform.
Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said on Wednesday that Facebook should be taking a more definitive stance.
“Holocaust denial is a willful, deliberate and longstanding deception tactic by antisemites that is incontrovertibly hateful, hurtful, and threatening to Jews,” Greenblatt said. “Facebook has a moral and ethical obligation not to allow its dissemination. ADL will continue to challenge Facebook on this position and call on them to regard Holocaust denial as a violation of their community guidelines.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center said that Zuckerberg was completely wrong about Holocaust denial.
“Holocaust deniers only come in two flavors – those who don’t want to believe there was an Auschwitz and those who want to finish the job, like Iran,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center.
“Holocaust denial is the quintessential ‘fake news’... allowing the canard of Holocaust denial to be posted on Facebook, or any other social media platform cannot be justified in the name of ‘free exchange of ideas’ when the idea itself is based on a falsehood.”
Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt told JTA that it is “ludicrous” to claim Holocaust deniers don’t have the intent to deceive.
“Holocaust denial is no different than Sandy Hook mass-killing denial,” she said, referring to conspiracy theories falsely claiming that the 2012 school shooting was a hoax. “It’s not a ‘mistaken’ notion of history. It is a deliberate distortion made in the name of hatred. Simply put: Denial is a form of antisemitism and racism.”
The social media platform said it would only remove content which “is aimed at or going to induce violence.”
In Israel, the government and Facebook have engaged extensively over posts the country believes are incitement and should be removed.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled the “Facebook bill” from the Knesset agenda before it could be passed into law.
The bill, which was intended to require Facebook, Google and other tech giants to remove content that incites terrorism, was deemed to have been written in a much too broad and far-reaching manner.
An edited version of the bill is likely to be brought up again when the Knesset returns in October.