Is Facebook in denial about Holocaust denial? For years, international organizations opposing anti-Semitism have been urging the planet’s preeminent social-networking platform to delete any content that asserts the Nazi-orchestrated extermination of 6 million Jews never took place. And for years, officials of Facebook, boasting more than 750 million active users, have refused, insisting that mere denial of the Holocaust, however “repugnant and ignorant,” doesn’t constitute “hate speech” as defined by Facebook’s Terms of Service policy prohibiting “content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” (Which gave a huge opening to TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, who noted that while Facebook was meticulously removing photos of breast-feeding women, it was allowing the proliferation of Holocaust-denial pages. His mordant headline: “Jew Haters Welcome At Facebook, As Long As They Aren’t Lactating.”)
Facebook’s critics—including such groups as the Anti-Defamation League and the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, which describes itself as an Israeli-led “alliance of statesmen, parliamentarians, diplomats, journalists, legal experts, NGOs and scholars”—argue that Holocaust denial is, by definition, an expression of hatred for the Jewish people. “Holocaust denial is basically a form of classic anti-Semitism,” said Deborah Lauter, ADL’s director of civil rights and its cyber-hate response team. “It’s anti-Semitism per se because it serves as a powerful conspiracy theory that basically says the Jews have manipulated history to advance their own worldview, whether to create sympathy or world domination. In other words, we have fabricated this monstrous event in history in order to further our own hidden agenda.”
Facebook spokesman Simon Axten doesn’t see it that way. “We find Holocaust denial to be repugnant and ignorant, just as we object to many of the other ideas expressed on Facebook,” Axten told me via email this week. “We’ve come to the conclusion that the mere statement of denying the Holocaust is not a violation of our policies. We recognize people’s right to be factually wrong about historical events.” The controversy surrounding Facebook’s free-speech position isn’t especially new. It has been a matter of anxiety among Jewish groups at least since November 2008, when blogger and attorney Brian Cuban—the less-famous brother of Dallas Mavericks owner and Dancing With the Stars contestant Mark Cuban—sounded the alarm and prompted a spate of media attention.
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