Facebook In Denial About Holocaust Deniers On Facebook
Remember how Mark Zuckerberg not-so-secretly thought he could be president, as if somehow he was the only person in America who saw The Social Network? (Zuck, the movie isn't like Wonkette's Facebook page that you screwed over with your weird algorithms.) I think those lofty aspirations officially sputtered and died after Zuckerberg's interview this week with Recode during which he chose to defend Holocaust deniers like they were some key demo in a winning coalition.
Let's rewind a tad: Zuckerberg has been on the hot seat for Facebook's role in spreading "fake news" that possibly helped elect Donald Trump, whom he called to congratulate, and further Russian interests (I guess that's sort of the same thing). People want to know how Facebook will responsibly manage the information that appears on its platform. I now cede the floor to the not-so-great communicator.
[Zuckerberg] The principles that we have on what we remove from the service are: If it's going to result in real harm, real physical harm, or if you're attacking individuals, then that content shouldn't be on the platform. There's a lot of categories of that that we can get into, but then there's broad debate.
[RECODE] Okay. "Sandy Hook didn't happen" is not a debate. It is false. You can't just take that down?
[Zuckerberg] I agree that it is false.
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-
Gotta stop you there, sir, because I question whether you're thinking at all. What do you mean Holocaust deniers aren't "intentionally" getting it wrong? Of course they are. That's the whole point. You think they just haven't made it to Dachau? They never watched one of the many available Holocaust testimonial videos from survivors? As my aunt would say, "Someone come get the fool out of this boy's mouth."
Noah Berlatsky covered in the Forward how Zuckerberg is naively misguided to believe that Holocaust deniers (and Nazis in general) are arguing their positions in good faith. It's all propaganda, which Zuckerberg enables when he claims Facebook can't or shouldn't determine the "intentions" of such obvious bullshit.
[Zuckerberg] 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."
Yet Facebook isn't some Oompa Loompa slave labor wonderland of free speech. It frequently removes content and users from the platform. Prominent bloggers are reduced to using "yt" or other euphemisms for "white people" to avoid getting banned. A Facebook friend was sent to the Phantom Zone for awhile because she posted that most recent mass shooters are white men, which is a true statement. Women are often banned or have content pulled because they point out after the latest #MeToo story that "men are trash."
[Zuckerberg] 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.
Hey, I wonder if that's what happened to us! Unlike Diamond and Silk, and other conservatives who are absolutely NOT being censored by Facebook even as Congress holds hearings about their oppression, Facebook has reduced the reach of Wonkette posts to about 20 percent of what it was just a few months ago.
Sure, we call certain Republicans "assholes" and suggest that high-ranking Trump staffers
perform physically difficult sexual acts on themselves. We're
occasionally often uncivil. But we don't publish fake news, and we don't publish hate speech. That's not a distinction based in political ideology but rooted in history. Holocaust denial is a direct descendent of the scapegoating of Jews by Nazis that led to the very real Holocaust. If the Holocaust didn't happen, then Jews as a group are liars who perpetuated a vicious "myth" to "extract huge payments in restitution from Germany and to justify the establishment of the State of Israel." Holocaust denial isn't an expression of belief but a call to arms.
Zuckerberg did attempt to
"clarify" his remarks in a followup email, but frankly, if you need to "clear up" that you didn't mean to defend Holocaust deniers, you should take a long sabbatical from speaking words to people.
[Zuckerberg] Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed. And of course if a post crossed line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group, it would be removed. These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.
Facebook of course profits off user engagement, and fringe content -- the more repulsive the better -- generates more clicks and revenue than your cousin's pictures of her homemade jewelry. Even if we take Zuckerberg at his word, the well-meaning liberal plea to "fight offensive bad speech with good speech" is like claiming you can counteract a cup of arsenic in your cake batter with an extra cup of sugar. Arsenic isn't "salt" or "flour," a mere "difference of ingredient" in your recipe. It's lethal.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.