In July 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did an interview with Vox Recode in which he was asked why he doesn’t remove false declarations about news and events from his platform. For example, when people say the Sandy Hook massacre never happened, why can’t he just delete that content from Facebook? Zuckerberg said if someone actually went to a Sandy Hook victim and harassed them, then Facebook would take those comments down. He didn’t say false information about Sandy Hook would be removed.
Why? Because this is all part of Zuckerberg’s mission to protect free expression, no matter how hurtful it might be.
Then, in the Recode interview, Zuckerberg brought up Holocaust denial. He said sometimes Holocaust deniers are just making a mistake or “getting it wrong.”
“It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent,” Zuckerberg told Recode. “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’m sure you do. I’m sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, and 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.’”
Zuckerberg later clarified his comments and said, “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”
Now, Facebook has finally come around.
“Today we are updating our hate speech policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust,” announced Monika Bickert, Facebook’s VP of Content Policy, on the platform’s blog. “[This] marks another step in our effort to fight hate on our services. Our decision is supported by the well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally and the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people.”
Bickert also said that, starting later this year, whenever someone searches Facebook for terms “associated with the Holocaust or its denial,” the platform will direct them to “credible information” elsewhere.
According to The Verge, Facebook did say earlier this year that it would ban anti-Semitic stereotypes, particularly those that show Jews “running the world or its major institutions.” However, says The Verge, merely a week after that pronouncement, a UK counter-extremism group called the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, discovered that Facebook’s algorithm actually promotes Holocaust denial content.
Today, Zuckerberg says he’s evolved.
“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post today. “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.”