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July 30, 2018 3:29 pm

Facebook Must Ban Holocaust Denial

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Reuters / Leah Millis.

Vichy, France — I came here to see some of the historical sites related to French complicity in the Holocaust. There is a plaque on the Opera House, where the parliament met during World War II; it mentions only the 80 people who voted against creating a new government under the collaborator Maréchal Pétain. It omits the 569 who voted in favor.

The city completely whitewashes its role in the Holocaust. There is no museum, only a small plaque on the wall of a hard-to-find synagogue in an alley bearing the names of a fraction of the Jews who were deported from France. French Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld placed his own plaque inside the Hôtel du Parc in 1990, the location of the Vichy government’s ministry of propaganda and other ministries. The plaque was defaced. In 2001, Klarsfeld got permission from the municipality to place a stone memorial facing Le Parc to memorialize 6,500 Jews deported from France to Auschwitz.

France is not unique among European collaborators seeking to erase their role in the greatest crime in history. But there can be no compromise when it comes to Holocaust memory. And that is why Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s attitude towards Holocaust denial is so disturbing.

Social media has many useful and valuable qualities, but it also is used for nefarious purposes. Facebook, in particular, has become the home of antisemites, racists, and other vile individuals who promote hatred. We depend on the people who run Facebook and other platforms to police them. However, it is clear that they are failing. Consequently, I was happy to hear Mark Zuckerberg say that Facebook would ban posts calling for violence. Unfortunately, he followed that up by saying that Facebook would not ban Holocaust denial.

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I can understand how difficult it is to monitor more than two billion users of Facebook, and to determine what is offensive without constraining free speech. However, certain cases are no-brainers — such as using the “N word” in racist posts, or homophobic posts attacking gay people. Holocaust denial falls under the same category.

Zuckerberg, however, said in an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher that while he finds Holocaust denial “deeply offensive,” he doesn’t believe its proponents should be banned from Facebook. “At the end of the day,” he said, “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.”

Really?

Surely Zuckerberg does not believe that users should be allowed to spread the most disgusting and dangerous lies. The Holocaust is not up for debate. It is not someone’s opinion. It is not an unproven theory. It is an incontrovertible historical fact.

In the case of Holocaust denial, the lies are an insult to the memory of six million Jewish martyrs. They also promote the antisemitic notion that Jews invented the story to serve their interests. They also feed the delusions of neo-Nazis.

The founder of Facebook, who is obviously a brilliant man, expressed the shockingly naïve idea that Holocaust deniers do not “intentionally” get it wrong.

Yes, they do.

Holocaust deniers know exactly what they are doing. They are trying to convince people that the Holocaust was a hoax, or that there were no gas chambers, or that the number of Jews who were murdered is exaggerated. These are intentional lies meant to offend and, while they may not advocate it, their Jew-hatred can incite violence. It is also designed to delegitimize Israel, as if the Jews invented the lie of their annihilation in order to steal the land of the Palestinians. This is why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas specifically chose Holocaust denial for his doctoral thesis.

It is hard to imagine Zuckerberg defending KKK pages on Facebook because some of the Klansmen might not intend to be racists.

Anyone in a position of responsibility must know better. Zuckerberg is, of course, Jewish and an impressive young man. Surely he knows that the Nazis, who deniers say did not commit genocide, would have killed his entire family if given the opportunity. He might not have been born if the Allies had not defeated Hitler to prevent the Final Solution from becoming truly final for the entire Jewish people.

Holocaust denial is not new. It is also not a topic that was suddenly brought to Facebook’s attention by the interviewer who elicited his comments. Representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, for example, have been raising the issue for years. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Center, said that they did win a victory when Facebook agreed to remove Holocaust denial sponsored by a state such as Iran, because it was considered propaganda. “But postings by individuals remained on Facebook,” Cooper related, “in the name of free speech.”

I spent the two past summers visiting the sites where the Holocaust was planned and implemented. I went to the Wannsee house. I visited towns throughout Eastern Europe where entire Jewish communities were wiped out. And I walked in the footsteps of the men, women, and children who were sent to the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mauthausen, and Sobibor.

Zuckerberg is simply wrong in saying that people who deny any of this happened are unaware of the truth. And he should not be granting them the use of the social media platform that he founded for positive change to promote their wretched lies.

Zuckerberg’s sister Randi, a Jewish activist who once worked for Facebook, issued a statement that put the onus on the US government:

As much as I disagree with Holocaust deniers having a voice at all, the reality is that it is not currently considered a crime in the United States, and if we want our social networks to remove this hateful speech and follow the lead of many countries in Europe who denounce it as criminal, we need to expand the conversation more broadly and legislate at a national level.

I know Randi. She is an extremely proud and accomplished Jewish woman who is also extraordinarily dedicated to Israel. But it is too easy for Facebook to retreat behind the First Amendment, just as many academics use “academic freedom” to shield themselves from censure for their antisemitic statements.

The truth is that Facebook already bans some speech. The company issued a statement that said, “There are certain forms of misinformation that have contributed to physical harm, and we are making a policy change which will enable us to take that type of content down.”

Maya Kosoff — writing in Vanity Fair — noted the inconsistency and arbitrariness of the policy: “It says, in short, that the company is unwilling to be an arbiter of truth, unless that truth begets violence.”

It is illegal to deny the Holocaust in Germany and the government has told Facebook that such posts must be deleted. There is no reason why Facebook should limit this policy to one country.

At a time when antisemitism is growing around the world, Holocaust denial is on the rise, and Jews are being attacked not just verbally but physically, it is outrageous for Facebook to shield Holocaust deniers. The company has no excuse for allowing them to spread their lies and venom to the global community that uses Facebook.

You’re an amazing man, Mark. You’ve united the world on a single platform. Now do justice to the sacred memory of the six million by not allowing that platform to deny that they were murdered.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 32 books, including Lust for Love, co-authored with Pamela Anderson. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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