Facebook Bans Holocaust Denial, Reversing Earlier Policy CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who previously considered such claims free speech, said his thinking has "evolved." Survivors had lobbied the social network to remove posts that deny the Holocaust.
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Facebook Bans Holocaust Denial, Reversing Earlier Policy

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Facebook Bans Holocaust Denial, Reversing Earlier Policy

Facebook Bans Holocaust Denial, Reversing Earlier Policy

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Facebook said today it is banning all content that denies or distorts the Holocaust. That is a big reversal. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has long said the social network is a place for free speech, even if that speech is offensive. NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond is on the line with us now to offer more details. And we should note that Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters. Hey, Shannon.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So tell us a little more about this new policy. I mean, how did Zuckerberg's thinking on this change?

BOND: Yeah. So to understand that, we should go back to 2018. He gave this interview to Recode, and he said that while he personally finds Holocaust denial deeply offensive, he said Facebook shouldn't take these posts down just because they're factually wrong. Here's what he told them.

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MARK ZUCKERBERG: I just don't think that it is the right thing to say we are going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.

BOND: And really, the way that Zuckerberg frames this, you know, his idea is Facebook is a place for people to exercise free speech, and the company shouldn't be the arbiter of truth. He says that over and over. This approach, of course, has caused a lot of controversy and criticism. Zuckerberg even had to go back and clarify he wasn't defending Holocaust deniers. So today in a Facebook post, Zuckerberg now says his thinking has, quote, "evolved" over how his company handles Holocaust denial and that balance between free speech and harm.

CHANG: Interesting. Well, what about the timing of this policy change? I mean, why is Facebook taking action now, you think?

BOND: Well, Facebook says this is, you know, really about what's happening in the world. They point to data showing a global increase in anti-Semitic violence. They also referenced this study of younger Americans that showed almost a quarter say the Holocaust is a myth or exaggerated or they're unsure about it. They say that's an alarming level of ignorance. And there's external pressure. This summer, a group called the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany organized a social media campaign. Here's one of the videos it put out. And you can hear Holocaust survivors pleading with Zuckerberg.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Mark Zuckerberg...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Remove the Holocaust deniers from Facebook...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: No, there is no denying it. The Holocaust was real. I know.

BOND: You know, we've been talking about this so much this year. Facebook is just under all of this pressure to stop hate speech of any kind. Of course, it can be really difficult to remove bad content, especially when it can go viral so quickly among billions of users. And Facebook has acknowledged this new policy will take some time to enforce effectively. It has to train its artificial intelligence technology to recognize and stamp out these false claims.

CHANG: Right. Well, what are critics of Facebook saying about this particular change?

BOND: Well, across the board, I would say, you know, this has really been welcomed by critics. You know, many of them are saying this is a really big step. This is a big deal for Facebook to do it, even if it is belated, because, of course, many of these groups have been telling Facebook for years that Holocaust denial is a huge problem. And in just the past few weeks, Facebook has been cracking down more on harmful content. It banned QAnon, the baseless conspiracy theory that really took off this year and has been so popular on Facebook. It prohibited anti-Semitic stereotypes, banned armed militia groups. I spoke with Jonathan Greenblatt. He's the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, and he's part of a coalition behind a campaign this summer to boycott Facebook advertising.

JONATHAN GREENBLATT: Facebook will be judged, not on the promises they make but on how they keep those promises.

BOND: And you know - and this is something that people say to me all the time. You know, Greenblatt here is saying Facebook is listening to its critics. It's doing the right thing. That's important. The real question, though, is how will they enforce all these rules?

CHANG: That is NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond. Thank you, Shannon.

BOND: Thanks, Ailsa.

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