UPDATE: Germany has just announced that if Mark Zuckerberg won’t enforce anti-Holocaust denial provisions on his platform, it will:
“There must be no place for anti-Semitism [on Facebook]. This includes verbal and physical attacks on Jews as well as the denial of Holocaust,” Justice Minister Katarina Barley said on Thursday.
“The latter is also punishable by us and will be strictly prosecuted,” Barley said.
A ministry spokesperson said Facebook must adhere to German law
It will levy up to $58-million in fines against Facebook for such infractions. I’ll bet Marky Mark gets the message right quick. Money talks, while morality whispers.
Mark Zuckerberg gave another one of his clueless interviews to Recode in which he actually tried to make the argument that Holocaust denial was not a punishable offense on Facebook because it was only a “wrong opinion” and everyone makes errors once in a while. It’s an example of someone totally oblivious to his moral responsibilities in the world. Someone so obsessively devoted to selling his product, that all else is subsumed and secondary. I am sorry to say this but it makes him an accessory to evil.
In discussing various repugnant content on the platform and whether or not Facebook wound ban it, Zuckerberg raised the Holocaust:
Z: I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened.
S: Yes, there’s a lot.
Z: 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-
S: In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.
Z: 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.” (Update: Mark has clarified these remarks here: “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”)
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. I think we, actually, to the contrary-
S: So you move them down? Versus, in Myanmar, where you remove it?
There are so many things wrong with Zuckerberg’s comments here, it’s hard to know where to begin. First, Holocaust denial is not simply an idea that people “get wrong.” It is a hoax, the epitome of fake news. It is not an opinion like a million other harmless opinion. It is a form of thought that either excuses or endorses mass murder. Zuckerberg, who seems to have an awfully hazy grasp of Jewish history, doesn’t understand that Nazism came from somewhere. It came from precisely the sorts of people who espouse Holocaust denial, white supremacy, Neo-Nazism, etc.
These ideologies not only foment hatred, they incite true believers to acts of violence, even murder. And social media shares some responsibility for some of these crimes. Especially, if the perpetrators use social media to communicate their ideas and to be indoctrinated by others sharing those ideas.
Even Zuckerberg’s supposed “clarification” doesn’t help him. Of course, he’s not defending Holocaust denial. But he isn’t addressing it either as it runs rampant on his own company’s platform.
Finally, the idea that Myanmar, which is a case of genocide, is somehow different from Holocaust denial is specious. Nazis killed 6-million Jews. The Burmese junta has murdered hundreds of thousands and ethnically cleansed over 500,000. There is no difference between them.
In talking about fake news on Facebook, the interviewer asks:
Why don’t you wanna just say “get off our platform?”
Look, as abhorrent as some of this content can be, I do think that it gets down to this principle of giving people a voice.
Even if it’s a hoax.
Yeah. I mean, at some level, it’s hard to always have a clear line between … I’m not defending any specific content here. I think a lot of the content that’s at play is terrible. I think when you get into discussions around free speech, you’re often talking at the margins of content that is terrible and what should … but defending people’s right to say things even if they can be bad.
No, Holocaust denial is not just “bad.” It is the successor to the worst evil of the 20th century. That’s far beyond “bad.”
The utter hypocrisy of Zuckerberg’s statement rears its ugly head around the issue of Palestine. There, entire pages and individual users have been suspended and even banned, not because they espouse violence, but because the Israeli government has told Facebook they do. And Facebook has dutifully capitulated. It rarely disagrees. Further, Israeli human rights campaigners have reviewed Facebook postings by Israelis and Palestinians and find that Israelis post four times as much hate speech as Palestinians. Yet hardly any of the Israeli hate is ever removed. The reason is clear: Israel has a great deal more power in the scheme of things than Palestine. Facebook fears state power. It doesn’t care about fairness or justice.
It is by far the largest-reaching and fastest-growing Canadian Jewish page on Facebook, with more followers than B’nai Brith Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, UJA Federation of Canada, the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee and The Canadian Jewish News combined.
As many will recall, this was Meir Kahane’s slogan and the page is administered by avowed members of the Jewish Defense League, whose Israeli branch, Kach, is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury. However, you will never see the phrase “Jewish Defense League” or “Meir Kahane” posted by the page’s administrators.
Zuckerberg doesn’t seem troubled by that in the least by this stealth hate, since the page is alive and well on his social media platform. The article linked above also notes that NAC routinely posts provably fraudulent Islamophobic claims. I guess Zuckerberg is a tad sensitive to fake news due to the horrible publicity he’s gotten lately. But fake Muslim news, not so much.
Returning to the case of Palestine, Facebook is suppressing political speech, not hate speech. Not speech which arouses violence. But rather speech which arouses resistance to Occupation.
It’s also worth noting that the entire interview deals with Facebook as a domestic American company. Clearly, the rules he devises hardly apply outside the U.S. or perhaps western democracies. Facebook does not uphold these principles in countries ruled by military juntas or dictators. Rather, it is at their beck and call.
What irks me even more is that Facebook users are often arrested and imprisoned for perfectly reasonable things they say on the platform, yet the company feels no sense of responsibility for that. The attitude is: “you’re on your own, Jack.” If Facebook is a community, it is an awfully one-sided one in which you owe Facebook much and it owes you nothing.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.