NEW YORK (JTA) — It was when Mark Zuckerberg said he would allow Holocaust denial on his platform that the Anti-Defamation League realized its partnership with Facebook wasn’t working.
The social media giant and the Jewish civil rights group had been working together for years to curb hate speech online.
In October, 2017, Facebook headlined a new ADL initiative to start a Cyberhate Problem-Solving Lab in collaboration with Silicon Valley’s biggest companies.
Then, nine months later, Zucker- berg told the tech site Recode that while he personally found Holocaust denial “deeply offensive,” he said, “I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong.”
People who monitor anti-Semitism criticized Zuckerberg for what they saw as undeservedly giving anti-Semites the benefit of the doubt — as if they were making an innocent mistake rather than propagating a deliberate lie.
That’s when the ADL realized that Facebook wasn’t going to change on its own and needed to be pressured.
“Holocaust denial is something that we’ve been talking to Face- book about for I think it’s 11 years at this point,” Daniel Kelley, associate director of the ADL’s center for technology and society.
“We’ve told them Holocaust denial is hate. It is not misinformation. And they have not only not changed, but in several instances doubled down on treating Holocaust denial as some form of mis- information.”
So the ADL has changed tacks as Facebook, according to ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, “has allowed some of the worst elements of society into our homes and our lives.”
Facebook did not respond to an email request for comment.
But the company has disputed that it has a poor record on addressing hateful posts.
It points to a recent study from the European Union showing that Facebook is the quickest among the major social media platforms in addressing notifications of hate speech coming from European users.
It found that Facebook assessed 96% of the notifications of hate speech within 24 hours, compared to 76.6% for Twitter. Facebook removed 87.6% of the flagged content, compared to 35.9% for Twit- ter.
Kelley said that while Face-book does release transparency reports, it does not give outside researchers access to the data, unlike Twitter. So he said there’s no real way to confirm Facebook’s claims of transparency.
Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, who spoke out against Zuckerberg’s remarks on Holocaust denial, said a boycott was the right way to go.
“Facebook is a private entity and no private entity is obligated to post hate speech,” she said.
“Generally I don’t like boycotts, but if this is the only thing to which Facebook is going to respond, then you have no other choice. You can choose where you put your money.”
This year, in testimony to Congress, Greenblatt cited his work in Silicon Valley in calling on tech companies to work harder.
He called tech “an amplifier, an organizer, and a catalyst for some of the worst types of hate in our society,” and said Facebook and Twitter “need to apply the same energy to protecting vulnerable users that they apply to protect their profits.”
Despite the measures Facebook has taken, the ADL says that has- n’t happened. That’s why, after years of trying to collaborate with Facebook, the ADL is now trying to disrupt its revenue stream in the hopes of forcing change.
“There’s a common understanding that Facebook is a company that puts revenue above all else, but I think this is a very clear-cut example,” the ADL’s Kelley said.
“All of these changes, the minor tweaks that Mark Zuckerberg announced . . . were things that the civil rights community have been asking for for years, in addition to larger structural changes to the platform.
“It took a massive pause on advertisement by major companies to get them to move an inch.”