Facebook has banned Holocaust denial on its platform, marking an end to years of its controversial stance on allowing certain posts and groups to remain online in the interests of freedom of speech.
The tech giant has previously avoided banning users who used its services to deny the Holocaust in defence of upholding freedom of speech, despite increasing pressure from human rights groups to tackle anti-Semitic content.
Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in 2018 that while he found such views “deeply offensive”, he didn’t believe their proponents were “intentionally getting it wrong”, outlining how the company’s policies were aimed more at preventing the spread of fake news rather than stopping people from saying things that were untrue.
The 36-year old, who is Jewish, explained that his decision to finally expand Facebook’s policy to prohibit content that “denies or distorts” the Holocaust was in relation to the well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally.
‘Denying the horror of the Holocaust’
“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimising or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” Mr Zuckerberg said.
“My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech. Drawing the right lines between what is and isn’t acceptable speech isn’t straightforward, but with the current state of the world, I believe this is the right balance.”
While Facebook has previously taken down posts that praise hate crimes and mass murder, including the Holocaust, this is the first time the company has prohibited Holocaust denial specifically.
Young people, in particular, are exhibiting an “alarming level of ignorance” about the Holocaust, the company explained in a statement, adding that a recent survey of US adults aged between 18-39 had found that almost a quarter said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, that it had been exaggerated or they weren’t sure.
Directing users to authoritative sources
Facebook has worked with organisations including the World Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee and the Community Security Trust in the UK to inform its policies around anti-Semitism, it added.
Searching for the Holocaust or related topics around its denial on Facebook will direct the user to “authoritative sources to get accurate information” outside of the organisation from later this year.
Facebook has often been criticised for being slow to react to individuals and groups who use it to spread fear and misinformation.
It banned all pages and groups on its platform linked to radical far-right movement QAnon last week, three years after the group rose to prominence on the site and one year since the FBI warned its followers were a domestic terrorism threat.