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August 16, 2020 7:19 pm

Watchdog Group Discovers Facebook Algorithms Directing Users to Holocaust Denial Content

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Facebook logo. Photo: shopcatalog via Flickr.

Facebook’s search algorithms routinely send people to content denying the Holocaust, a new investigation by a UK-based watchdog organization has found.

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which monitors extremism, searched for the word “Holocaust” and discovered that they were immediately directed to Holocaust denial pages, which included links to literature by deniers such as the fascist pseudo-historian David Irving, the UK daily the Guardian reported on Sunday.

The ISD found 36 pages that engage in Holocaust denial, with over 350,000 followers collectively. The site also recommended further denial pages to users who made such searches.

Jacob Davey, ISD’s senior research manager, said, “Facebook’s decision to allow Holocaust denial content to remain on its platform is framed under the guise of protecting legitimate historical debate, but this misses the reason why people engage in Holocaust denial in the first place.”

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“Denial of the Holocaust is a deliberate tool used to delegitimize the suffering of the Jewish people and perpetuate long-standing antisemitic tropes,” he asserted, “and when people explicitly do this it should be seen as an act of hatred.”

Facebook has been under strong pressure in recent months to crack down on racism, antisemitism, and hate speech on its platform.

Earlier this month, a coalition of 128 organizations sent an open letter to Facebook’s board of directors calling on the social media giant to officially adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism as a guiding policy on combating online Jew-hatred.

“While the impact of online hate speech, misinformation, and disinformation on our society continues to be researched and explored, we cannot afford to lose any more time in fighting this bigotry and preventing violence,” the letter declared, urging Facebook to “put words into action and power behind commitment” by adopting the IHRA definition.

Last week, the social media giant banned antisemitic conspiracy theories, but has not outright banned Holocaust denial.

A spokesperson said regarding Holocaust denial on the site, “We take down any post that celebrates, defends, or attempts to justify the Holocaust. The same goes for any content that mocks Holocaust victims, accuses victims of lying, spews hate, or advocates for violence against Jewish people in any way.”

The spokesperson added, “We also remove groups and pages that discuss Holocaust denial from recommendations and references to it in search predictions. While we do not take down content simply for being untruthful, many posts that deny the Holocaust often violate our policies against hate speech and are removed.”

Jakob Guhl, ISD’s research coordinator, criticized Facebook’s stance, because bans on such material by other platforms such as YouTube have proven effective.

“Our findings show that the actions taken by platforms can effectively reduce the volume and visibility of this type of antisemitic content,” he said. “These companies therefore need to ask themselves what type of platform they would like to be: one that earns money by allowing Holocaust denial to flourish, or one that takes a principled stand against it.”

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