Facebook has announced it will remove all content on its platform that “denies or distorts the Holocaust.” The company says this expansion of its hate speech policies is a response to what it calls “the well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally and the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people.” Facebook has previously faced strong criticism for letting Holocaust denial content spread freely on its platform.
In addition to removing content that denies or distorts the Holocaust, the company says that, starting later this year, it will direct anyone searching on Facebook for terms related to this topic to “credible information” supplied by third-party sources.
“Enforcement of these policies cannot happen overnight. There is a range of content that can violate these policies, and it will take some time to train our reviewers and systems on enforcement,” said Facebook’s VP of content policy, Monika Bickert, in a blog post.
Earlier this year, Facebook said it would ban anti-Semitic stereotypes that depicts Jewish people as “running the world or its major institutions.” But a report a week later by a UK counter-extremism group, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), found that the company’s algorithm “actively promotes” Holocaust denial content.
Removing content that denies or distorts the Holocaust may seem like an obvious decision for a company that is frequently accused of enabling hate speech. But in the past, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, has presented the company’s tolerance of Holocaust denial as an example of its commitment to principles of free speech.
In an interview with Recode in 2018, Zuckerberg said that Facebook wouldn’t remove content from Holocaust deniers because he believed these individuals weren’t “intentionally getting it [the Holocaust] wrong.”
“It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent,” said Zuckerberg. “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 added: “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”)
In a Facebook post today, Zuckerberg said his thinking on the matter had “evolved,” in part in response to a climate of “rising anti-Semitism.”
“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” said Zuckerberg. “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.”