Facebook has been promoting Holocaust denial on its platform, according to a recent report by The Institute for Strategic Dialogue. Holocaust survivors have launched an online campaign, #NoDenyingIt, calling on Facebook to remove Holocaust-denying material from its website. "How can somebody really doubt it?" asked Eva Schloss (pictured), a Holocaust survivor. "There are tens of thousands of photos taken by the Nazis themselves. They were proud of what they were doing." (Photo by Evert Elzinga/AFP via Getty Images)
Facebook has been promoting Holocaust denial on its platform, according to a recent report by The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), "Hosting the 'Holohoax': A Snapshot of Holocaust Denial Across Social Media".
"Holocaust denial has long been one of the most insidious conspiracy theories targeting Jewish communities, with its extremist proponents drawn from across the ideological spectrum, from extreme right-wing to hard left to Islamist", the report states. "Research has shown that digital platforms have only served to amplify and mainstream this warped strain of thinking in recent years".
Researchers from ISD gathered posts using the keyword "holohoax" from between June 1, 2018 and July 22, 2020 on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube. According to ISD:
"The term 'holohoax' is popular among Holocaust deniers. It was selected as it is a particularly explicit means of denying the Holocaust. A significant amount of Holocaust denial content is couched in careful language, codes and tropes, and thus it is highly likely that this analysis only shows the tip of the iceberg of the true extent to which such content is able to spread on social media".
ISD's researchers identified at least 36 Facebook pages and groups that were either specifically dedicated to Holocaust denial or that host Holocaust denial content. The Facebook pages and groups had a combined number of followers of 366,068 and an average number of members of 10,168.
The researchers said that as they viewed the Holocaust-denying pages and posts on Facebook, the social media site's algorithm promoted even more Holocaust denial content to them, such as pages about the Holocaust denier David Irving and sites selling Holocaust denial literature. According to ISD:
"The entities investigated were ideologically diverse. ISD researchers classified 9 of them as far-right, 7 as anti-Zionist, 13 as conspiracy theorists, 5 as pro-Palestine, 1 as Christian right and 1 as Islamist".
In addition, the researchers found 19,000 pieces of "holohoax" content on Twitter, 2,300 pieces of content on social media site Reddit and 9,500 pieces of content on YouTube. Facebook takes down such posts only in countries such as Germany, France and Poland where Holocaust denial is illegal.
Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg had already said in an interview in July 2018, that Facebook would not block Holocaust deniers:
"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".
According to ISD:
"Facebook executives... have explicitly rationalised allowing Holocaust denial on their platform. This was explained by Vice President for Global Public Policy at Facebook Joel Kaplan in a 2019 letter to the chairman of the US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad. The letter explained that Facebook would not remove 'lies or content that is inaccurate – whether it's denying the Holocaust, the Armenian massacre, or the fact that the Syrian government has killed hundreds of thousands of its own people'. Kaplan explained that 'this is because we do believe that people should be able to say things on Facebook that are wrong or inaccurate, even when they are offensive'".
As the ISD points out in its report, however, Holocaust denial is not about people getting history "wrong":
"Holocaust denial is discourse which seeks to deny the reality and extent of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis in World War II. Such discourse has been used since the 1940s as a means of attacking Jews. Contemporary Holocaust denial is propagated by individuals adhering to a range of extremist world views including the extreme right and hard left, and has become interwoven with a number of antisemitic conspiracy theories. This speech seeks not only to minimise the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust, but to mitigate criticism of Nazism, and justify ongoing attacks against the Jewish people. Due to the intimate intersection between Holocaust denial and hate targeting Jews, such content should be regarded as inherently anti-Semitic".
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an intergovernmental organization consisting of 31 member states, including the US, and that was founded in 1998, adopted a non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism on May 26, 2016. According to its definition, one example of antisemitism is:
"Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust)".
Given Facebook's public commitment to fighting "hate speech" on its site, Facebook's refusal to acknowledge international guidelines on anti-Semitic hate speech by reducing Holocaust denial to a mere instance of "getting things wrong" -- while using its algorithms to promote Holocaust denial -- is clearly unacceptable.
The effort that Facebook makes regarding all other forms of hate speech can be seen by contrasting it to their attitude to Holocaust denial. In the second quarter of 2020 (April-June), Facebook removed a record number of "hate speech" posts from its pages -- 22.5 million compared to 9.6 million in the first quarter of 2020. Facebook even now proactively removes most hate speech content (94.5%) before users even report it.
In its Community Standards, Facebook claims it does not allow hate speech on Facebook "because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion". Facebook seems to have notably less concern for the "intimidation and exclusion" that elderly Holocaust survivors might experience on its site.
Holocaust survivors have now launched an online campaign, #NoDenyingIt, calling on Facebook to remove Holocaust-denying material from its website. "How can somebody really doubt it?" asked Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor. "Where are the six million people? There are tens of thousands of photos taken by the Nazis themselves. They were proud of what they were doing."
Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.