Facebook, extending its mercurial policies toward offensive user-created content, has told Holocaust survivors that groups created to deny the existence of the Holocaust will remain on their site. The decision was a blow to the people who had advocated for their removal, and seems somewhat inexplicable, given Facebook’s history of removing pages that were proven to be hate speech.
Earlier this month, 21 Holocaust survivors affiliated with the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote a letter to Facebook, asking the website to remove groups which allege that the Holocaust was a hoax. They requested that Facebook cease to allow Holocaust-deniers to utilize their “powerful social networking platform,” saying that the groups were “shameless, cynical and hateful propaganda,” and should not be protected by Facebook’s free speech policy.
“Do not permit Holocaust denial any platform on Facebook to preach its inherent message of lies and hate,” they wrote. ”By allowing this hate propaganda on Facebook, you are exposing the public and, in particular, youth to the anti-Semitism which fueled the Holocaust.”
In the past, Facebook has come under fire for failing to adequately police its groups, which are sometimes shockingly offensive. For example, last year, a group called for men to kill sex workers, and a truly charming group of Australian college students, who declared themselves to be “anti-consent,” created a “pro-rape” Facebook page.
Facebook only occasionally takes protests against these pages seriously. In March, they decided to remove a group called the “Third Palestinian Intifada,” which openly incited violence against Jews. The page, however, was soon re-launched.
The site has a clear-cut policy about what users can and cannot post, and they are expressly prohibited from using Facebook for “hateful, threatening” material. But Facebook’s definition of “hateful” and “threatening” seems to be quite loose. Explaining the decision to allow Holocaust-denying pages to stay, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said,
“We think that there is a meaningful difference between advocating violence against a group of people and expressing an opinion on a policy, set of beliefs, or historical event — even if that opinion is factually wrong, or is outrageous or offensive to most people. However, if the members of the Holocaust denial groups consistently post hateful or threatening comments, we will take the groups down, and we have done so on many occasions.”
For Holocaust survivors – and Jews more generally – the very act of denying one of the worst genocides in history is itself an act of violence. As Rabbi Abraham Cooper points out, “A review of denial sites currently active on Facebook confirm that it is not mere (free) speech but that it constitutes at its core a platform for bigotry and hatred of Jews, dead and alive. That is how notorious Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites continue to manipulate Facebook’s social networking service in multiple languages.”
It’s unclear why Facebook is so reluctant to remove groups that patently constitute hate speech. But whether users are advocating for the deaths of sex workers or claiming that the Holocaust never happened, Facebook should deny them the privilege of using the site as a platform for their views.
Photo from neilhooting via flickr.