Facebook has announced that it will remove any content from its platform “that denies or distorts the Holocaust”. According to a press release the company said it was taking the step in light of a global increase in antisemitism.
The company also pointed to a new survey which shows that 35% of US adults aged between 18 and 39 believed in some form of Holocaust denial. Facebook described these trends as “alarming”.
Banning Holocaust denial
The move was announced in a press release by Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Vice President of Content Policy. Citing reported increases in hate speech attacks, Bickert declared that the company was now “updating our hate speech policy” around Holocaust denial. As a result, the company claims that it has “banned more than 250 white supremacist organizations” from the platform.
What’s more, the company says that from later this year it will redirect users to “credible information” about the Holocaust if they search for Holocaust denial content on the website. The company revealed it had decided on these policies based on discussions with anti-hate speech and Jewish organisations.
Bickert stated that the move represents the latest in Facebook’s “effort to fight hate on our services”.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that he had “struggled with the tension” between free speech and banning speech such as Holocaust denial. He wrote on his Facebook page that his thinking on the issue “evolved” after he saw “data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence”. And this also influenced his company’s hate speech policies.
He ended his statement by writing:
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.
Facebook has been roundly criticised in the past for its failure to deal with extremism on the platform.
In August the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) published a report which detailed the levels of Holocaust denial on the platform. In addition, it found that Facebook’s own algorithm would “actively recommend” similar content to people who followed Holocaust denial pages or groups.
The authors also highlighted that Facebook’s own executives “have explicitly rationalised allowing Holocaust denial” on the website.
They pointed to comments made by Facebook’s Vice President for Global Public Policy, Joel Kaplan, in 2019. At the time he said that Facebook would not remove false information from the platform. He justified it by insisting “we do believe that people should be able to say things on Facebook that are wrong or inaccurate, even when they are offensive”.
In recent weeks Facebook has also begun to remove QAnon pages and groups from its platform. It said it was removing them after it updated its Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy. As a result, Facebook deleted hundreds of QAnon pages and groups.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons – Brian Solis