SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Zuckerberg says he wants to give everyone in the world a voice. But what happens when some of those wishing a voice are Holocaust deniers?
That question was posed to the Facebook founder in an interview on July 18 with Recode, a tech news site, about the social network giant’s role in fighting false news and ensuring the safety of users.
Zuckerberg’s answer placed two values in tension: On the one hand, he said, Facebook prioritizes allowing people to express themselves — even if, he said, they “get things wrong.”
On the other hand, he doesn’t want Facebook to serve as a platform for harming people or groups. So while Facebook would not remove a post denying the Holocaust, Zuckerberg said, it would push that post down the News Feed to make sure it doesn’t go viral.
“I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened,” he told the interviewer, Kara Swisher.
“I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, 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, but I think . . . ”
At that point, Swisher jumped in: “In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.”
“It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent,” Zuckerberg said. “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.’
“What we will do is we’ll say, ‘OK, you have your page, and if you’re not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive.’ But that doesn’t mean that we have a responsibility to make it widely distributed in News Feed.”
News Feed is the display of items that greet a Facebook user when they access the service. The items can range from a personal update from a close friend to a widely shared news story or video.
There are some cases in which Zuckerberg said Facebook would remove content with false news. The New York Times reported on people in Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Burma) who used the platform to spread false rumors against the Muslim minorities of those countries, leading to deaths in both places. So Zuckerberg said Facebook is more willing to remove false, inciting content in those places.
Several Jewish figures have criticized Zuckerberg’s statements. Deborah Lipstadt, the Holocaust historian, said that though governments should not criminalize Holocaust denial, social media platforms also should not give it any space.
“I do not believe that non-governmental entities, such as Facebook, should be posting denial claims,” Lipstadt wrote in an email to JTA.
“Freedom of the press means the press should be free of governmental control. It does not mean that the press or social media platforms have to provide space for deniers.”
Lipstadt also wrote that the notion that denial is an unintentional error is “ludicrous.”
“Holocaust denial is no different than Sandy Hook mass killing denial,” she wrote, referring to conspiracy theories falsely claiming that the 2012 school shooting was a hoax.
“It’s not a ‘mistaken’ notion of history. It is a deliberate distortion, made in the name of hatred. Simply put: Denial is a form of anti-Semitism and racism.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the ADL, also said in a statement that Facebook should take a harder line on Holocaust denial.
“Holocaust denial is a willful, deliberate and longstanding deception tactic by anti-Semites that is incontrovertibly hateful, hurtful, and threatening to Jews,” he said.
“Facebook has a moral and ethical obligation not to allow its dissemination. ADL will continue to challenge Facebook on this position and call on them to regard Holocaust denial as a violation of their community guidelines.”
Facebook has faced criticism from both sides: from users and watchdogs who don’t want it to act like a censor, and from those who think it needs to draw the line on odious conspiracy theorists like Infowars, Holocaust deniers and the like.
“What each side of this conversation has in common, whether they acknowledge it or not, is a fear of Facebook’s power: Its power to activate prejudice at scale, by giving Infowars a platform, or its power to cut off a key distribution channel for any given publication,” Max Read wrote in an essay on Zuckerberg’s comments for New York magazine.
Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, weighed in on his controversial comments about Holocaust deniers on the social media platform.
In a statement provided to CNN, Randi Zuckerberg, who previously served as director of marketing for Facebook and is the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, denounced Holocaust deniers, citing “their hateful, disgusting rhetoric.”
She appeared to agree with her brother, however, adding that banning such people from social media “will not make them go away.”
In her remarks to CNN, Randi Zuckerberg noted her longtime involvement in Birthright Israel, PJ Library, Reboot, the Wexner Foundation, the Shalom Hartman Institute, San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum and “JCCs and Federations across the US and Canada.”
“Unfortunately, when we give a voice to everyone, we give it to people who use that voice for good and to people who abuse that voice,” she wrote. “Organizations doing impactful work now have more powerful tools than ever before, yet the nasty dark underbelly that exists right beneath the surface has access to those exact same tools.”
She suggested that a national debate was needed on Holocaust deniers’ right to a platform.
“As much as I disagree with Holocaust deniers having a voice at all, the reality is that it is not currently considered a crime in the US, and if we want our social networks to remove this hateful speech and follow the lead of many countries in Europe who denounce it as criminal, we need to expand the conversation more broadly and legislate at a national level,” she wrote.
“I wish that these platforms didn’t give a voice to those who cry out for divestment from Israel, make anti-Jewish remarks, and many of the other issues affecting our community today. But silencing everyone — or worse, silencing selectively — would be far more nefarious.”
The German government issued a withering critique of Zuckerberg’s decision, stating that such a policy was contrary to German law.
“There must be no place for anti-Semitism. This includes verbal and physical attacks on Jews as well as the denial of the Holocaust,” Justice Minister Katarina Barley said. “The latter is also punishable by us and will be strictly prosecuted.”
In a statement to Politico Europe, a Justice Ministry spokeswoman said that what the Jewish tech entrepreneur “wishes or demands for the American or international market is not possible in Germany,” where Nazi symbols and Holocaust denial have been prohibited for decades.
“Social media companies operating in Germany are required by law to remove content violating the ban.