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September 15, 2009

Holocaust Denial, Anti-Semitism and Facebook

Social media expert Andre Oboler writes about Facebook's defense of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in an article for The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs' (JCPA) Institute for Global Jewish Affairs. He chronicles the evolution of Facebook's stand on hate speech, culminating in the rewriting of itsTerms of Service to remove prohibitions on defamatory or inflammatory content

No longer prohibited is content that is "derogatory," "demeaning," "offensive," "harmful," "defamatory," "abusive," "inflammatory," "vulgar," "obscene," "fraudulent," "invasive of privacy or publicity rights," or "racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable." Also gone is the clause not to "violate any local, state, national or international law." Facebook is not above the law and removing this clause changes nothing.

By dropping the ban on a whole raft of antisocial behaviors, from the "vulgar" to the "obscene," Facebook retracted its position that "certain kinds of speech simply do not belong in a community like Facebook." The removal of the prohibition on defamation and on racism, prohibited since the start, is particularly worrying, specifically in light of Facebook's canned response that specifically talks about hate against individuals. Facebook has dropped its commitment to being a safe place on the internet. It has given up any pretense of being guided by morals rather than money.

The article demonstrates how Facebook "has given up any pretense of being guided by morals rather than money" and concludes that:

Facebook has demonstrated once again that it is media pressure and not its own Terms of Service or ethical deliberations that cause action to be taken against online hate. The company has watered down the provisions against various types of hateful content and dropped its promise to provide a "safe place on the internet." Most alarmingly, despite still prohibiting hateful content, Facebook has decided as policy to allow Holocaust denial on the platform. This demonstrates a lack of understanding regarding anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in particularly, and a lack of engagement with the problem of anti-Semitism 2.0.

Posted by RH at September 15, 2009 10:06 AM


I am torn on this issue. On one hand I despise anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers as much as any other Jew, whose family members were murdered by the Nazis. On the other hand, I've been involved in pro-Israeli groups on Facebook. How long do you think it will take before someone will try to take those ones down as well, claiming that they are anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim?

Posted by: Eric [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 15, 2009 03:37 PM

Hi Eric,

What you describe is a different issue. The difference is in the protection for political speech. They can say what they like about Israeli policy, and you can say what you like about Hamas policy (or terrorist activities). This is legitimate debate.

- Andre

Posted by: Andre Oboler at September 17, 2009 05:34 PM

After hearing some of the defenses Facebook has used in justifying the persistence of anti-semitic hate groups on their site, I can only come to one simple conclusion: Facebook is run by anti-semites. They should be exposed publicly and widely. As a test, I would send press releases to all major news outlets, and then tally the responses and publish them here. Let's see how many news organizations are willing to address this problem, and how many tacitly approve of Facebook's policy.

Posted by: Roddy Frankel at September 21, 2009 12:11 AM

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