Zuckerberg Will Not Ban "Holocaust Denial" on Facebook!
-- but he is receptive to having the government do it for him.
Published: 2018-07-23

There was a big controversy following the publication by Recode on 18 July 2018 of a lengthy interview with the proprietor of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, wherein he told an interviewer, among other points having received less notice, that he would not ban “Holocaust denial” from Facebook, and he also said that people who dispute the Holocaust may be sincere. 

They had been discussing Alex Jones and Infowars (certainly no friends of Holocaust revisionism) as a supposedly chronic purveyor of false news. To illustrate his general position on such questions, Zuckerberg decided to refer to Holocaust denial, probably because it seemed to be the extreme example that would make his position most clear (although there remained considerable ambiguity in what Zuckerberg said).

Zuckerberg explained that Facebook does not ban false information, nor does it ban users who repeatedly post false information, because Facebook represents itself as “giving people a voice,” and this image becomes less tenable if users are banned for what they posted.

On the other hand, he continued, Facebook makes sure that what it considers bad information gets less distribution than approved information. (This is a kind of soft censorship, much less obvious to Facebook's users than outright censorship.)

The interviewer, Kara Swisher, suggests that some users should be banned.

Zuckerberg responds that there is a policy to remove content that will lead to “real physical harm.”

Swisher suggests that information that is unquestionably false should also be removed. (She gives the example of people who say that there was no school-shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.)

Zuckerberg says that if victims of some incident are directly told that they are liars, this constitutes harassment, and this kind of content would be removed. Then he begins to talk about Holocaust denial:

"But overall, let’s take this whole closer to home...

"I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened. 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.... 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'."

And again, Zuckerberg explains that Facebook arranges for disfavored information like Holocaust Denial to get less distribution.

The part of Zuckerberg's discourse that has provoked the most reaction is the part where he opined that Holocaust deniers were not “intentionally getting it wrong” and did not necessarily have bad “intent.” 

Zuckerberg, in his position as proprietor of a social-media giant, most likely has observed what kinds of arguments and information the skeptics of the Holocaust bring to bear, and, while unconvinced, he may have noticed that some of those arguments are not obviously wrong. He may even have chatted with some skeptics and noticed that they came across as sincere and not especially hateful.

It should be entirely uncontroversial that at least some of the people who dispute major elements of the Holocaust narrative are not simply liars motivated by hatred.

The point that there are sincere skeptics was conveyed with Errol Morris's 1999 film Mr. Death. In that film the man who wrote The Leuchter Report, rendering an expert opinion that the structures at Auschwitz and Majdanek alleged to have been homicidal gas chambers could not have been used for such a purpose, is represented as mistaken and deluded, but not as malevolent or insincere. Morris, who is Jewish, called Fred Leuchter a "lovable idiot." (P. Applebome, NY Times 26 December 1999)

Not very nice, really, but at least Leuchter got credit for sincerity.

Today's champions of the Holocaust, however – at least the ones who seek exposure in mass media – seem unable to admit that any of their adversaries might sincerely hold the opposite view.

Zuckerberg's interview was given on Tuesday and published on Wednesday, 18 July at 11:02AM. Two hours later, at 1PM, the ADL tweeted CEO Jonathan Greenblatt's response:

“Holocaust denial is a willful, deliberate and longstanding deception tactic by anti-Semites that is incontrovertibly hateful, hurtful, and threatening to Jews.” (ADL, Twitter)

No ambiguity or nuance whatsoever there. According to the ADL, everyone who questions the Holocaust is an anti-Semite who does not really believes what he says.

The journalistic commentary on this matter in general seemed to be poorly informed, as if lining up mindlessly behind Greenblatt. Matthew Fleischer writing for the Los Angeles Times (18 July 2018), Luke Darby for Yahoo News (18 July 2018), Molly Roberts of the Washington Post (19 July 2018), Cait Stevenson writing for Ha'aretz (22 July 2018), and Johannes Breit for Slate (20 July 2018), all assert that there can be no such thing as a sincere questioner of the Holocaust.

Are they themselves “intentionally getting it wrong,” or are they so immersed in their own propaganda that they cannot conceive that anyone sincerely disagrees? Perhaps the answer is a mixture of those two possibilities.

By 4:40PM, only 5 hours and 38 minutes after the interview was published, there had been so much hostile reaction that Zuckerberg issued this “clarification”:

“I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.

"Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed. And of course if a post crossed the line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group, it would be removed.

"These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech." (Recode, 18 July 2918)

Zuckerberg again emphasizes the soft censorship that Facebook exercises, making sure that Holocaust denial gets relatively little distribution, but he also expands his definition of what kind of content would be removed from Facebook: not only content that incites violence, but also content that would cause “hate against a particular group.” (This retreat on Zuckerberg's part introduces a troubling slippery slope, insofar as Deborah Lipstadt has long claimed that disputing the Holocaust was the same as calling Jews liars and thus stirring hatred against them.) On the main point of controversy, what Zuckerberg said was not a clarification but a reversal. He now says that he “didn't intend to defend the intent” of Holocaust deniers, which he had defended before.

Zuckerberg seems to be malleable in the face of criticism.

The next day (19 July), CNN Money published a commentary on the position of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook by sister Randi Zuckerberg, who is also an employee of Facebook.

First, Randi Zuckerberg lets us know that she is very Jewish:

"I am appalled and heartbroken by the fact that there are still people who deny the Holocaust. My husband and I have spent the last decade involved with Jewish organizations such as Birthright Israel, PJ Library, Reboot, Wexner, The Hartman Institute, the CJM, and JCCs and Federations across the US and Canada.... I feel sick to my stomach seeing such hateful, disgusting rhetoric.”

Then she says something that seems quite reasonable:

“Banning Holocaust deniers from social media will not make them go away. […] While it can be appalling to see what some people say, I don't think living in a sterile, Stepford-like online community where we simply press the delete button on the ugly reality of how people feel is helpful either.”

But – wait for it – her final position is that Holocaust denial should be banned, not by Facebook but by the federal government of the United States:

“I don't want to live in a world where Holocaust deniers are given a voice and I think we absolutely need to be having a debate at a national level on whether they deserve a place on any platform at all. At the same time, I also don't want to live in a world where tech companies get to decide who has the right to speech and get to police content in a way that is different from what our legal system dictates. […] Rather than rally against technology, let's recognize that this hate exists, that it's not going anywhere, and use our anger as a rallying cry to call for legislation to make Holocaust denial a crime....” (CNN Money, 19 July 2018)

This position may, in fact, be not at all different from Mark Zuckerberg's. There is enough ambiguity in Zuckerberg's statements that his advocacy of countering bad speech with good speech might be merely an accommodation to present circumstances in the United States. How attached to free speech is Mark Zuckerberg, really?

Der Spiegel described the relationship between Facebook and Holocaust revisionism within the German legal system as follows:

“In Germany and some other countries like the Netherlands and Austria, Facebook takes vigorous action against Holocaust denial. If such posts are reported in Germany, they are blocked from the network, because the denial or trivialization of the mass murder of the Jews is illegal in Germany. The Federal Constitutional Court had decided in 1994 that statements of that kind are not included within the fundamental right of freedom of opinion.” (translated from Der Spiegel, 19 July 2018)

Zuckerberg and Facebook are thus very adaptable to different legal circumstances. While Zuckerberg's operation conforms to the speech restrictions that exist in Europe, he has said that he anticipates that similar restrictions might be imposed by the government in the United States, “in the name of preventing hate or terrorism or just different things.” He considers such censorship a likely development, and he says that censorship "can be pretty reasonable." The only question is whether Mark Zuckerberg welcomes official censorship of Holocaust denial and "hate speech" as much as his sister says she does.

The clearly stated position of Randi Zuckerberg, which may also be the position of Mark Zuckerberg, is that Facebook is unwilling to bear the responsibility for banning Holocaust denial, and therefore the federal government should do it.

Why cannot Facebook take this responsibility? Because there is no way for Facebook to win by taking one side or the other regarding the Holocaust and other divisive questions. Either way, Facebook will alienate some users. Even people with no preexisting interest in historical revisionism may object to a curtailment of other people's speech.

Facebook is not entirely lacking competition, and that competition will gain strength if Facebook offends its users by restricting speech. When there was a controversy about speech restrictions on Twitter in 2016, Gab came into being as an alternative to what founder Andrew Torba fairly describes as "the entirely left-leaning Big Social monopoly.” Before Facebook, there was MySpace. A decade ago MySpace was huge, but who uses it now? Facebook could go the same way, if Zuckerberg is not careful.

If mass media in the United States were not dominated by Jewish interests, the Zuckerbergs' support for official censorship would be the big focus of controversy – not Mark Zuckerberg's candid admission that Holocaust deniers may be sincere.


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Author(s): Hadding Scott
Title: Zuckerberg Will Not Ban "Holocaust Denial" on Facebook!, -- but he is receptive to having the government do it for him.
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Published: 2018-07-23
First posted on CODOH: July 23, 2018, 6:21 a.m.
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