Facebook to label content that violates policies as America's biggest companies suspend ads over platforms hate and division

Facebook bans Holocaust denial following ‘rise in antisemitism and alarming level of ignorance’

The social media site had been criticised for not taking stronger action on hate speech

Adam Smith@adamndsmith
Monday 12 October 2020 21:00

Facebook has announced that it is updating its hate speech policies to explicitly ban Holocaust denial.

The site had previously allowed such content to be posted on the site, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying that he found it “deeply offensive” but that his company would continue to host it.

“I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong,” he said.

The social media giant will now “prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust”.

It comes as the company has been criticised for allowing its algorithm to promote Holocaust denial.

Researchers used a popular keyword used by Holocaust deniers to uncover 28 Facebook groups and eight pages that had almost 370,000 followers in total.

Mark Zuckerberg posted about the change from his account.

“We’ve long taken down posts that praise hate crimes or mass murder, including the Holocaust. But with rising antisemitism, we’re expanding our policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust as well. If people search for the Holocaust on Facebook, we’ll start directing you to authoritative sources to get accurate information,” he wrote.

“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimising or denying the horror of the Holocaust. My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in antisemitic 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.”

Facebook says that it has worked with a number of groups fighting antisemitism, including the World Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, the Community Security Trust, and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, an increase in antisemitic incidents have been reported online as coronavirus caused “old tropes to be repackaged”, according to a report from the Community Security Trust.

Previously, Facebook had used Holocaust denial as an example of how the company protects free speech.

Mr Zuckerberg had said that posts that are false will be downgraded in the algorithm if they are spotted by Facebook’s fact checkers, and users would be banned entirely if they advocated violence against a particular group.

“These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech,” he said in 2018.

As well as now cracking down on Holocaust denial, Facebook had recently removed a network of QAnon accounts.

The social media site removed 1,500 accounts and groups relating to QAnon conspiracy theories that discussed violence, and which has also been used to promote antisemitism. 

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