After years of allowing Holocaust denial to spread on its platform, Facebook today announced it will finally remove "any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust."
"Today’s announcement marks another step in our effort to fight hate on our services," Monika Bickert, VP of Content Policy at Facebook, said in a post on the company's press site. "Our decision is supported by the well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally and the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people. According to a recent survey of adults in the US aged 18-39, almost a quarter said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, that it had been exaggerated or they weren’t sure."
Bickert is referring to a survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany published in September that found Gen Z and millenial Americans are increasingly ignorant about the Holocaust. Bickert however does not mention that Facebook, which has over 2 billion users globally, has played a role in allowing Holocaust denial to spread, a decision that founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has previously defended.
"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," Zuckerberg said on the Recode Decode podcast in 2018.
Much like Facebook's announcement last week that it is going to start removing QAnon content, the decision feels like it's too little too late. Holocaust denial is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that predates the internet and Facebook, but one that could reach more people online where platforms allowed it to spread. In fact, Facebook didn't only not remove Holocaust denial, a study published by Institute for Strategic Dialogue earlier this year found that Facebook's own recommendation algorithm funneled its users towards the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. Searching for the word "holocaust" on Facebook, the study found, resulted in suggestions for Holocaust denial pages, which in turn recommend links to publishers that sell revisionist and denial literature.
It remains to be seen how effective Facebook will be at removing Holocaust denial content. Even when its policy clearly bans hateful content, the size of its platform makes it impossible to remove it entirely.
As is the case with Facebook's previous decisions to finally remove QAnon, ban white nationalism, and stop content inciting genocide, today's decision on Holocaust denial raises one obvious question: Why couldn't have Facebook done this years ago?