Facebook’s decision this week to ban speech that denies or distorts the Holocaust is an important one. Although I am a strong supporter of the Bill of Rights, which includes the right to free speech, I also believe that private media companies have a responsibility to monitor the speech expressed in their pages (whether in print or online), and try to contribute to productive discourse rather than become a platform for untruths.
Before the advent of social media, I was one of those people who said that the answer to hate speech is more speech. I’m not so sure anymore. Social media have largely adopted the free speech banner, even though the right to free speech applies to protection from government interference, not to private companies.
Social media platforms have not only become filled with hate and untruths, but have actually become drivers for both, contributing greatly to the breakdown of civil discourse in this country.
It’s made me rethink the “more speech” argument. I’d rather leave a social media conflagration than engage in it, because even in the best-case scenario, when a Twitter debate is based on facts, there’s no dialogue. It’s just each side entrenching deeper and deeper.
More typically, the “debates” are filled with ad hominem attacks and selective facts devoid of context.
I am concerned about Facebook’s latest move, only because: Who decides? Does Facebook have a panel of Holocaust experts on call? Then there’s the term “distortion,” which means Facebook is getting into a grey, qualitative, area.
I’ve gotten into enough “debates” online with Holocaust “distorters” to know that they jump onto any inconsistency to try and prove that the Holocaust didn’t happen. If Facebook deletes “distortions” and not only outright denials, this may add fuel to the Holocaust-denying fire, as typically “distorters” use censorship as examples of Jewish control of the Holocaust “narrative.”
As the moderator of www.ijn.com, I’ve been faced with these questions. While in general I publish all comments, I don’t publish Holocaust denials or clear anti-Semitism. Like many Jews, I’ve studied the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, so I feel fairly comfortable making that judgement call.
I see no reason why the IJN should be a platform for hate, despite our commitment to diverse speech and opinions. Sometimes a line must be drawn. I’m glad Facebook is recognizing that; I just hope its execution won’t lead to more anti-Jewish sentiment.
Next week: An example of where a presidential distortion can lead.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2020 by the Intermountain Jewish News