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In Defense of Mark Zuckerberg Letting Holocaust Deniers Use Facebook

Silencing hate isn't the same thing as squelching it.

ZuckerbergLEWIS JOLY/VIVA TECHNOLOG/SIPA/NewscomFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is drawing criticism on social media for defending his company's policy of letting cranks operate on the platform. This policy strikes me as perfectly reasonable, even if Zuckerberg tripped over his words a bit when he articulated it.

The remarks came during an interview with Recode:

Zuckerberg: I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, "Hey, no, you're a liar"—that is harassment, and we actually will take that down. 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, but I think—

[Interviewer interjects:] In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.

It's hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. 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."

What we will do is we'll say, "Okay, 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.

Of course many leading Holocaust deniers are intentionally getting it wrong. They do this because they are anti-Semites, and denying the Holocaust is part of a strategy of making Jewish people less sympathetic and delegitimizing Jewish identity. Others do it because its profitable for them. Infowars, cited as an example of fake news during the Recode interview, might be an example of willful disinformation meant to sell weird stuff. But there are indeed people who naively share Holocaust denial–related content on Facebook without being in on the scam, just as there are gullible people who fall for every other kind of hoax—vaccines causing autism, 9/11 being an inside job, NASA faking the moon landing, etc. Zuckerberg is correct that it's not always easy to differentiate hucksters from kooks.

In any case, the CEO of Facebook gets to set whatever policies regarding content-sharing on his platform that he likes. As Zuckerberg made clear in the interview, his policy takes its cues from the First Amendment. Facebook users may not advocate violence or plan criminal activities, but merely expressing incorrect opinions is permissible. If Facebook were a public square on public property, it would be obliged to maintain precisely this same approach. (This is actually a good argument for not turning Facebook into some kind of truly public utility, even if you don't like its fake news policy. A government-run Facebook would be bound by the First Amendment to maintain speech policies that are at least as permissive as its current ones.)

In our modern political discourse, Facebook plays a role very much akin to the public square: a massive one, involving the entire world. The arguments for letting nearly all voices—even deeply evil ones, provided they do not organize direct violence or harassment—be heard on this platform are the same arguments for not taking the European route on hate speech: Policing hate on a very large scale is quite difficult given the frequently subjective nature of offense; we risk de-platforming legitimate viewpoints that are unpopular but deserve to be heard; and ultimately, silencing hate is not the same thing as squelching it.

(Related: "A Bunch of Senators Just Showed They Have No Idea How Facebook Works. They Want to Regulate It Anyway.")

Photo Credit: LEWIS JOLY/VIVA TECHNOLOG/SIPA/Newscom

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  • SIV||

    Of course a Reason Editor would defend holocaust deniers

  • Just Say'n||

    "NASA faking the moon landing"

    Ummmm....they did

  • Just Say'n||

    In all seriousness the move by critics to be concerned about "Holocaust deniers" is reductio ad absurdum. These people are really looking to silence all opinions that they dislike. That's why Buzzfeed has formed a mob to keep right-wing publications like the Daily Caller from participating in Facebook's conversation with news outlets.

  • A Thinking Mind||

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    defending his company's policy of letting cranks operate on the platform.

    But enough about Bernie Sanders.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Holocaust denial ain't just a lucrative river in You-gypped.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Of course many leading Holocaust deniers are intentionally getting it wrong. They do this because they are anti-Semites, and denying the Holocaust is part of a strategy of making Jewish people less sympathetic and delegitimizing Jewish identity

    Believe it or not, there are some Holocaust deniers that have looked at the problem from an engineering standpoint and don't believe that the Nazi logistics could have dispatched 6,000,000 Jews. Meaning, they killed a lot of Jews, but not anywhere near as many as 6 million. But those are pretty rare birds.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Do you have any opinions or thoughts you wanted to roll out for us Paul? We're a safe space.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Actually I ran into this when watching a documentary on a guy who made devices for states to execute people. He was an interesting guy, very asperger-ey. He was considered to be one of the foremost experts on the subject of dispatching someone efficiently and quickly. During the documentary, it came up that he had issues with the 6 million figure for the Holocaust. He simply took an engineers approach and didn't believe that with the infrastructure the Nazis had, they could have dispatched that many human beings during WWII. He believed they simple didn't have the 'bandwidth' (so to speak) to do so.

    Also during the interview he said he drank 40 cups of coffee a day. He said when he told his doctor, his doctor didn't believe him.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Huh, shit, it wasn't that hard to find.

    Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. is the 1999 documentary by American director Errol Morris. The film details the life of Fred A. Leuchter, a self-proclaimed expert in the design of American execution equipment. The film also explores the cirumstances in which Fred was lead to publish the Leuchter Report: The End of a Myth A Report on the Alleged Execution Gas Chambers at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek, Poland by an Execution Equipment Expert [1].
    [...]
    "The human body is not easy to destroy and it is not easy to take a life humanely and painlessly without doing a great deal of damage to the individual's body. Excess current cooks the tissue. There have been occasions where a great amount of current has been applied and the meat actually will come off the executee's body like the meat coming off a cooked chicken."
    Fred Leuchter
    [...]

  • perlchpr||

    humanely and painlessly

    The seemingly glaring error here would be that the Nazis were not, I am led to understand, particularly interested in being "humane" to the Jews they were slaughtering.

    If the guy's engineering analysis is based off the idea that the Nazis were killing Jews in anything approaching the manner that the modern state conducts executions, well, that's just absurd.

    It does not take high technology to build a large facility to gas or drown people in job lots.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    No, not at all. Those were quote snippets that had nothing to do with his assessment of the Final Solution. The "humanely and painlessly" (if you read the whole quote) is just his musings on the process of executing a person in our current, modern system.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The Germans kept records of jews grabbed, jews transported, jews in concentration and death camps, and jews exterminated.

    Some were destroyed and some records were recovered.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    *Channeling my inner Robbie*

    To be sure, the 6,000,000 figure is an estimate. It could have been less, or it also could have been more. No one's 100% sure how many were killed during the holocaust, so I can see why some people might question the official estimate. Of course, they're not taking into account that famous German engineering and efficiency.

    "Holocaust denier" has become a bit of a loaded term - when most people think of it they picture a conspiracy theorist lunatic living in his mom's basement with tinfoil on top of his head (but enough about SIV).

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I also think they tend to forget that the Germans were awesome at documenting and keeping meticulous records of their own atrocities.

  • ||

    At some point, the holocaust won't and shouldn't be real anymore. It's arguably already there. None of us were there to know whether Honest Abe or George Washington who cut down his father's cherry tree and proclaimed he couldn't tell a lie. The important part of recanting The Holocaust won't (hopefully) be Jewish or Aryan or even really matter as much as "Don't kill ~6 million people." After all, it wasn't the Jews like Zuckerberg who were winding up in concentration camps anyway.

  • Cathy L||

    As Zuckerberg made clear in the interview, his policy takes its cues from the First Amendment. Facebook users may not advocate violence or plan criminal activities, but merely expressing incorrect opinions is permissible.

    This is absurdly generous to Facebook. The First Amendment does protect advocacy of violence, just not incitement to violence. It also protects "hate speech" of the kind that is disallowed on Facebook.

  • Just Say'n||

    Facebook is still more generous than other social media platforms, I would assume. I don't use any, so I'm just guessing. Something those nerds should be applauded for.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    So generous the Russians were able to hack our entire election with a few dozen animated gifs.

  • Yellow Tony||

    They should've used webms. Fucking retards.

  • SIV||

    Putin deserves his place on Mount Rushmore 2.0, right between Presidents Donald Trump and Jefferson Davis.

  • Cathy L||

    I don't think there's a meaningful difference in policy across any of the major social platforms. Facebook's in practice is likely on the restrictive end because its size and reporting mechanisms facilitate a lot of inappropriate takedowns, like when they were slammed for removing the photo of "napalm girl."

  • Bubba Jones||

    I am amused by the underlying assumption that Facebook employees are smarter and better than all those people you are trying to protect from fake news.

  • Yellow Tony||

    Of course many leading Holocaust deniers are intentionally getting it wrong. They do this because they are anti-Semites, and denying the Holocaust is part of a strategy of making Jewish people less sympathetic and delegitimizing Jewish identity.


    The woketarian™ at it again!

  • Yellow Tony||

  • BYODB||

    Does Mark 'The Suck' Zuckerberg need defending on this? I mean, freedom of speech and what not might not apply to a private company but it seems to me that everyone is a 'crank' to someone.


    And, also, holocaust denying isn't illegal in the U.S. last I checked even while it's retarded. Right up there with people that think we never landed on the moon.

  • Yellow Tony||

    And, also, holocaust denying isn't illegal in the U.S. last I checked even while it's retarded. Right up there with people that think we never landed on the moon.
    How can these be real when are eyes aren't?

  • damikesc||

    I'll stand by this:

    The only reason Germany outlaws holocaust denial is the likely humiliation of how many in the country subscribe to the belief.

    Zuckerburg, if he was smart, would simply say "We're not going to police viewpoints. If you're threatened with a legitimate threat of violence, we will deal with that. That is all"

  • Bubba Jones||

    Why would he deal with that?

    Does AT&T deal with threatening phone calls?

  • ||

    I think the implication was that they'd deal with it by "turning the evidence over" to the proper authorities.

    And by "turning the evidence over" I mean "kick all the anti-third-party-doctrine morons squarely in the nuts".

  • turco||

    HIstorically , a lot of minorities were oppressed behind the veneer of "state rights" and "freedom of speech" and "freedom of association". Who will protect the down-trodden if Facebook allows anyone to publish their drivel?

    /sarc

  • damikesc||

    It would be terrible for PR to have violent threats left on their service and do nothing. It is the world we live in. They have to "do something". A post online is far easier to show the media then a phone call.

    I would suggest the user go to the cops if they feel threatened and offer assistance if needed. But they have to be SEEN as doing something, like it or not.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Eh, if Facebook were strictly 1-to-1 communications that'd be a fair analogy, but many parts of it are also more like a public forum. Something like the cork-board at your grocer or library where anyone can put up notices.

    Now, in one of those actual public forums, if you saw someone tacked a "Bubba Jones should die a violent wood-chipper related death", you could just tear it down, ball it up, and throw it in the trash. But you can't do that on Facebook, you have to go to the owner of the board and say "this is over the line, ball it up and throw it in the trash for me".

    That said, in the cases of the worst harassment, AT&T does help you "deal with" threatening calls, in changing your number and not publicly posting the new number, letting you control who has access to you through that medium after some event (such as doxxing) has made your old number unusable to you. Facebook currently does not have anything comparable, in fact abandoning your old account and creating a new one that you can start fresh with is against their Terms of Service.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    I was wondering why someone kept mentioning the Holocaust to me the other day. It's like you have to read the newspaper every morning to learn the word of the day.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Robby is right, for the right reasons.
    Zuck is right, but for the wrong reasons.

    False information, like Holocaust denial, shouldn't be 'permitted' because "well, we all get stuff wrong sometimes". (After all, the Holocaust denialists certainly don't think their info is false!) It should be permitted because it fosters free expression. If you can post something that is false, that means I can also post something that contradicts your falsehood, but you (and the powers-that-be) might think is itself false and would otherwise censor if they were not committed to open dialogue.

  • Modus Pwnens||

    "Okay, 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.

    Which is a strawman argument; nobody is saying that FB has an obligation to promote anybody's opinion on the newsfeed. However, they bill the newsfeed as a sampling of the things happening with your friends and the wider FB community -- not a sampling of things that the FB corporate office agrees with. If a post is shared by a lot of users or a lot of your friends, it really should be in the newsfeed regardless of content (with narrow exceptions for legal violations). Hopefully most people's friends aren't sharing holocaust denial posts, of course.

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