Facebook to include Holocaust denial in its definition of banned hate speech


Facebook is changing its internal rules by including Holocaust denial in its definition of hate speech, after suffering criticism for not doing enough to tackle this form of toxic disinformation.

Monika Bickert, VP of Content Policy published a blog post on October 12 announcing that the most powerful social media platform on the planet is updating their hate speech policy “to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.”

Facebook based this decision on the increased levels of online attacks against many groups worldwide by individuals and organizations promoting bigotries and racism. They have already “banned over 250 white supremacist organizations” and have taken down 22.5 million pieces of hate speech from their platform in the second quarter of this year.

Bickert also noted that Facebook took into account recent survey by the NGO Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) which showed that young people in the USA have extremely low knowledge about the  history related to the Holocaust, and that they hold numerous factually inaccurate positions that have been promoted by Neo-Nazi propaganda over the years.

Considering Holocaust education key for preventing various  forms of racism, including antisemitism, Bickert announced that the ban will be complemented with efforts to enable Facebook users to access verified information by providing them links to credible historical sources outside of Facebook within the  search results.

In September Meta.mk reported that  human rights defenders demand that Facebook starts treating Holocaust denial as hate speech within its content moderation policies. For instance, in July the Claims Conference started an online campaign that featured short video clips by Holocaust survivors, who sent messages to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, explaining why it’s important to make this  change within the  internal rules of the company.

While Holocaust denial, as a negation of an instance of genocide, is  criminal offence in numerous countries around the world, including Germany, France and Russia. The European Union has also enacted anti-hate speech policies and regulations, which include cooperation with international social media platforms.

Public negation, minimizing, approval or justification of genocide and war crimes is also a felony regulated by the Article 407-a of the  Criminal Code of Republic of Macedonia

However, Facebook’s domicile jurisdiction of the USA does not have federal laws prohibiting hate speech.

In 2018 Facebook founder Mark Zuckenberg attempted to clarify that even though his personal opinion is that Holocaust denial is abhorrent, at the time he didn’t consider that the company should enact new rules to ban all its forms because in many such cases it’s “hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent.”

Two years later, he explained the change of his position through a Facebook post:

“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression 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 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,” Zuckerberg wrote.

In July, the Anti Defamation League (ADL), a prominent international Jewish organization from New York, started a #StopHateForProfit supported by over 1,200 businesses and nonprofits calling for boycott of Facebook advertisers. The campaign goal was to pressure  Facebook to tackle groups and forums which get away with publishing enormous quantities of contents that deny the Holocaust, promote bigotry, racism and toxic disinformation, which should have been removed anyway according to already established self-regulation that bans anti-Semitic hate speech.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO, issued a statement that they are “relieved that Facebook has finally taken the step that we have been asking them to take for nearly a decade: to call Holocaust denial and distortion what it is – “hate speech” – and in doing so, to remove it from their platform. The Holocaust, the systematic murder of approximately six million Jews and several million others during World War II, is one of history’s most painstakingly examined and well-documented genocides.”

According to Greenblatt, Facebook now needs to show how they fulfil these pledges, including by publishing regular monitoring reports on the concrete measures taken.

“While we are relieved to learn this news, we also would note that platform decisions of this nature are only as good as the companies’ enforcement. Facebook now needs to reassure the global community that it is taking meaningful and comprehensive steps to ensure that Holocaust deniers are no longer able to take advantage of Facebook’s various platforms to spread antisemitism and hate. We hope that Facebook will follow up with regular progress reports documenting the steps they are taking to ensure that Holocaust denial and distortion permanently is expunged from their platform,” he wrote.

Facebook’s move met the approval of academic institutions that struggle for preservation of memories of the mass murder from the past in order to prevent genocides in the future. Thus the Illinois Holocaust Museum posted a statement on Twitter that it considers Facebook’s decision as an important step for continuous efforts “to educate on this important history & advocate for a world without antisemitism.”

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