Facebook considers Holocaust denial as “hate speech”, removes it from the site

Facebook’s Vice-President for Content Policy has posted a new notice saying that, as part of the firm’s fight against “hate speech,” they’re removing any content that “denies or distorts the Holocaust.” Click on the screenshot to see the full announcement:

An excerpt:

Today we are updating our hate speech policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust. . .

. . . Following a year of consultation with external experts, we recently banned anti-Semitic stereotypes about the collective power of Jews that often depicts them running the world or its major institutions.

Today’s announcement marks another step in our effort to fight hate on our services. 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.

Institutions focused on Holocaust research and remembrance, such as Yad Vashem, have noted that Holocaust education is also a key component in combatting anti-Semitism. Beginning later this year, we will direct anyone to credible information off Facebook if they search for terms associated with the Holocaust or its denial on our platform.

Now Facebook, as a private operation, has the right to ban whatever it wants. And I can see some rationale for banning vicious stereotypes of any group (they also ban white supremacists), though it’s not clear from the announcement above if the anti-Semitic stereotypes they ban are only those that show Jews controlling the world. (What about big-nosed Jews fondling dollar bills or sticking pitchforks into Palestinians?) But with Facebook, as with universities, I favor speech as free as possible—ideally, speech that is “free” as U.S. courts have interpreted the First Amendment. That means all speech is permissible save that speech which harasses individuals, is defamatory, constitutes false advertising, promotes immediate and foreseeable violence and so on.

In other words, I think that the speech permitted on Facebook should be speech that is permitted at the University of Chicago. And that includes both varieties of hate speech noted above.  One advantage, for instance of allowing anti-Semitism is to either out those purveying it, or to realize how widespread the problem really is. One cannot grasp, for instance, how much hatred of Jews is officially purveyed by some Arab states until you see the stuff for yourself.

One can make an even stronger case for Holocaust denialism—that is, to allow it. I speak from personal experience, for it was only by reading Holocaust denialists, and seeing how superficially convincing their arguments were, that I was motivated to do additional reading of those who addressed and attacked the denialism.  And that led me to the strongest denial of Denialism I know: Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman’s 2009 book Denying History (below). Shermer and Grobman not only powerfully refute Holocaust Denialism, but also use the case as an example of “pseudohistory” (which resembles “pseudoscience”) and further analyze the psychology of the denialists and those who follow them.

So I can appreciate Facebook’s aim, which is to prevent hate, but they are setting themselves up as the arbiters of what is “hate speech”, and it’s dangerous for anyone to do that, as Christopher Hitchens often remarked. (He also defended the rights of Holocaust Denialists who had been arrested.) How can you answer those who purvey lies if the lies themselves are censored? Further, is banning something a good way to suppress its message? There is, as we know, the Streisand Effect.

I write this as a secular Jew who despises anti-Semitism and Holocaust denialism. I am not a “self-hating Jew”. But my cultural affinity with Jews is not as strong as my support for freedom of speech.

But let’s take a poll (please vote).

h/t: Ken

87 Comments

  1. Posted October 13, 2020 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more. Removing such content plays into the hands of denialists, allowing them to claim that they are being persecuted and censored for telling the “truth.” There are mountains of source material out there confirming the facts of the Holocaust, and denialists are best defeated by confronting them with it. I haven’t read “Denying History,” but will order a copy.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      Have you ever debated with someone on Facebook who has obviously been brainwashed by others on Facebook? (and youtube & twitter)?

      I have, and I’m like John the Baptist in the wilderness. My friends get “support” from “people” they think are real, and claim I’m only supporting “facts” that support my “narrative.” I have about 200 friends. One of mine is someone I used to work with, and he has about 1,500 from who knows where. I think most are probably sock puppets from troll farms. He believes some truly wacky stuff.

      Self-radicalization is a real threat, and Facebook is one source. The FBI et.al. infiltrate private online spaces so we don’t have to.

    • savage
      Posted October 14, 2020 at 2:12 am | Permalink

      > Removing such content plays into the hands of denialists

      I disagree. As Steve Sailer put it, “what goes unsaid eventually goes unthought”.

  2. Posted October 13, 2020 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I voted that Facebook should censor antisemitism. Ideally, it should censor neither. But since FB is censoring hate speech against other ethnic groups, I can’t see why it should be open season on jews. Particularly given how antisemitic attacks have been rising.

    • Posted October 13, 2020 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      I do not support censoring the mere denial of holocaust facts. That can easily be countered.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        Yes, but what a colossal waste of time for those of us who care about what’s true.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Same here

  3. Posted October 13, 2020 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Christopher Hitchens … defended the rights of Holocaust Denialists who had been arrested.

    Well worth a re-listen!

  4. peter alexander
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Some platforms certainly reserve the right to decide what or what not to publish. For example, it’s extremely unlikely that the Guardian would publish an article that denied the Holocaust. I think that’s OK.

    Facebook is a platform. But is it a publisher? I don’t think it is. So here the waters get murky.

    Facebook resembles more an outlet for retail personal opinions, and in this regard I don’t think it should ban any speech however hateful or despicable, within the limits of prevailing law (incitement to violence, libel etc).

    There is a balance of risk. One risk is that platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow crackpots to spew their bile. The other risk is that you outsource the definition of hate and the ability to police the speech of individuals.

    Plainly, the consequences of the second risk far outweigh the first.

    • eric
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Facebook is a platform. But is it a publisher?

      I expect all of these types of outfits – Facebook, twitter, etc. – will censor as publishers so long as the courts allow litigants to sue them as publishers.

      There is also the money-making perspective; they will censor so long as they think that will get them more market share, i.e. so long as the user base desires censorship.

  5. Steve Gerrard
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Facebook is not a serious place for grownups to have serious discussions about world affairs. It is a place to share vacation pics and other pleasantries in a congenial fashion. It has the same status as Disneyland in my opinion, and I don’t want it to be granted any credibility beyond that. I voted both.

    • peter alexander
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      So you judge some outlets suitable for controversy, and others not?

      That gets you stuck in a thicket too tangled for dignified extraction.

      • Steve Gerrard
        Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        We are not telling Facebook what to do, we are voting on what we think Facebook should decide for itself to do.

        This website itself (WEIT) will not allow you to post a bunch of junk about holocaust denial or anti-semitism in a comment. Facebook can do the same thing.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      I also voted for both. There are other places for that kind of speech, where the interlocutors are actual people and not sock puppets from troll farms.

  6. Posted October 13, 2020 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I voted for free speech.

    “That means all speech is permissible save that speech which harasses individuals, is defamatory, constitutes false advertising, promotes immediate and foreseeable violence and so on.”

    How do you expect or desire these judgement calls to be made by a company like Facebook? I imagine the Woke would like to define “harass” with a pretty low bar that they get to define. Determining which advertising should be considered false is notoriously difficult. I thought “free speech” was usually defined as anything except the equivalent to falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you here.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Wouldn’t most antisemitism be considered defamatory? Also, Holocaust denialism is basically an accusation of conspiracy, which would also be defamatory.

      • Posted October 13, 2020 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        Sure, but who will be the judge? Holocaust denial is pretty easy as there is a huge body of evidence showing that it happened. Antisemitism is much tougher. Someone could present good faith research on some subject involving Jews and someone else will claim it is anti semitic. We can’t really rule out all speech making negative claims about Jews, only false ones or ones intended to denigrate.

        That said, I think we will eventually end up with some kind of body that controls speech. In modern society, we can’t do everything for ourselves. We need government to manage certain services for the common good. Policing information will have to be part of that common good. The intent of free speech is to allow people to express opinions but not use speech as a weapon. We’ll have to figure out ways to make the distinction. I suspect that artificial intelligence will be the only way to keep up with the volume.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 13, 2020 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

        You cannot defame an idea, only a person. Holocaust deniers and holocaust denial debunkers can sue each other for defamation — at least in the UK, witness the celebrated case Irving v Penguin Books Ltd., which was the subject of a feature film, Denial, starring the lovely and talented Rachel Weisz as the debunker Deborah Lipstadt sued by the infamous denier David Irving.

        In the US, in public fora at least, any effort to prohibit defamatory material from being published in the first place would be prohibited by the First Amendment doctrine against “prior restraints” on speech. Lawsuits seeking damages for defamation and libel are strictly after-the-fact remedies.

  7. Gingerbaker
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    There are plenty of places where real substantive discussion of the Holocaust can take place.

    Social media like Facebook and Twitter are not these places. They are the world’s most insidious brainwashing apparati. It makes sense that they would be two very good places to inoculate against the mental virus that is Holocaust denial.

    • peter alexander
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      If I read you right, you’re suggesting that Holocaust denial is too dangerous to be let loose on the lumpen masses?

      Good luck with that.

      • Gingerbaker
        Posted October 13, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        It’s the majority opinion of 1st world nations.

        • Posted October 13, 2020 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

          You weren’t asked what the majority opinion in first world nations is but what your opinion is.

          Do you think that Holocaust denial is too dangerous to be let loose on the lumpen masses?

          • Gingerbaker
            Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

            He said “Good luck with that”, which implies that the idea is so outre there would be no chance of its implementation.

            But most European nations will not tolerate Holocaust denial by people making public speeches. Which is not the same as denying regular people the right to talk all they want about it. Or banning it on social media platforms AFAICT.

            But, it does imply that European nations have decided that not all ideas have redeeming value in the marketplace of ideas. And not giving a public square platform to such speech is not worth the risk (it’s dangerous) and/or the morality of society itself is improved by the few ideas it will not tolerate.

            Me? I tend to agree more with the latter option, but I also see a small value to the first. I would be happy to see social media ban posts about Holocaust denial as well as IHRA definition antisemitism. What I would not support is making ANY topic verboten in private speech between individuals.

            • Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

              Yes but do you think that Holocaust denial is too dangerous to be let loose on the lumpen masses? You still haven’t answered the question.

              Clearly those countries that ban it do, but that’s not an indication of the sentiment of the populations of those countries.

              Personally, I think it might be true: many people are too stupid to analyse Holocaust denial critically. However, I do not think I want to be included in the “many”. In fact, I find the premise: “you cannot be trusted to process dangerous ideas correctly” insulting. Also, it ought to be possible to counter the Holocaust deniers effectively, because we’ve got the evidence on our side.

              • Mark
                Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

                “Also, it ought to be possible to counter the Holocaust deniers effectively, because we’ve
                got the evidence on our side.”

                I agree with you in theory. But HDers aren’t seriously discussing history. They use HD as racist propaganda.

              • Gingerbaker
                Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

                “Yes but do you think that Holocaust denial is too dangerous to be let loose on the lumpen masses? You still haven’t answered the question.”

                It doesn’t matter what I think. I live in the US, where political speech is given enormous protection. The more interesting question would be how I would respond if I lived in Germany. And I would answer in the affirmative.

                And if you asked me are there any political ideas that have so little value in the marketplace of ideas that the ethos of society would benefit from banning them, I would answer in the affirmative. And add that it is going to be a very small number of ideas.

                But it is moot here in the US. Not going to happen. Which I do feel is very curious, considering you can’t show a woman’s uncovered breast on a magazine cover here.

              • Posted October 14, 2020 at 3:50 am | Permalink

                Why would your answer be yes if you lived in Germany? My political opinions don’t change just because of my geographical location.

                This is the big objection to banning any kind of political idea. You are saying that people can’t be trusted to behave in the right way when exposed to such ideas. I find that deeply problematic, especially as I would be included in “the people”.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted October 13, 2020 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

                … if you asked me are there any political ideas that have so little value in the marketplace of ideas that the ethos of society would benefit from banning them, I would answer in the affirmative.

                Who should decided for an entire society what those ideas are?

              • Posted October 13, 2020 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

                While it is a difficult problem, I think we have no choice but to address it. We probably need some sort of multi-level system like the courts to pass judgement on whether a given message or ad breaks the rules. The bottom level will have to be an artificial intelligence to handle the volume. There will have to be a discussion as to exactly what kinds of speech are disallowed. Finally, there will have to be an appeal system to handle disputes. The upper levels probably should be handled by our legal system but it would be too inefficient to handle the lower levels.

              • Gingerbaker
                Posted October 13, 2020 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

                “Who should decided for an entire society what those ideas are?”

                How many European countries have bans on hate speech? Each of them came up with a system to determine which ideas they would reject. And their systems are dynamically self-correcting.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted October 14, 2020 at 9:04 am | Permalink

                @Gingerbaker:

                Care to cite a particular statutory scheme or speech code from a specific European nation that you find superior to the US system?

  8. Posted October 13, 2020 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Matt Taibbi makes an excellent case here: “After the Qanon Ban, Who is Next?” . Now we know, Holocaust Deniers were next.

    We’re frequently reminded there is no constitutional issue when private firms decide they don’t want to profit off the circulation of hateful, dangerous, and possibly libelous conspiracy theories.

    That argument is easy to understand, but it misses the complex new reality of speech in the Internet era. It is true that the First Amendment only regulates government bans. However, what do we a call a situation when the overwhelming majority of news content is distributed across a handful of tech platforms, and those platforms are — openly — partners with the federal government, and law enforcement in particular?

    • Gingerbaker
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      “We’re frequently reminded there is no constitutional issue when private firms decide they don’t want to profit off the circulation of hateful, dangerous, and possibly libelous conspiracy theories.”

      Seems to me it is a little more complicated than that, though, if we are talking about internet media. The government owns that bandwidth.

      Could they step in and say Twitter may not restrict political free speech on a national media asset? That they have not yet done so is not an answer to the question.

      Conversely, could a nation with Hate Speech laws impose bans on social media speech because it decides social media now qualifies enough as the public square?

      I don’t think Twitter is allowed to publish porn, so there is already censorship by the government of speech on the internet, even in the US.

      • BJ
        Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        You seem to be operating with faulty information on almost every issue you bring up here.

        (1) The government doesn’t “own the bandwidth”; companies like Verizon, Cablevision, etc. “own the bandwidth.” If the government wanted to censor information on the internet, they would need to designate specific outlets (like Facebook) as public utilities. All other privately owned outlets would be free to continue allowing or disallowing whatever they pleased, so long as it is within the bounds of the law.

        (2) The government cannot step in and tell Twitter what to do regarding speech. The only speech Twitter cannot host is speech that is already illegal. This is obviously the case with any person, publication, service, etc. Illegal speech is always banned. For legal speech, it is up to private businesses to decide whether they want to host it. There is no legal question about this. A lawsuit has never come up because it’s a moot point.

        (3) Nations with hate speech laws have already arrested people in the past for things they posted on Twitter and other social media platforms (often outrageously inoffensive things). This has happened in the UK, The Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, just to name a few. The hate speech laws are nebulous in these countries. As Wikipedia notes on the case of Mark Meecham (AKA Count Dankula) of the UK, “Meechan received press coverage when he posted a satirical video as his girlfriend mentioned how cute her dog was, so he made a video where he ‘would turn him into the least cute thing that I could think of, which is, a nazi.’ The video showed him teaching his girlfriend’s dog how to raise its paw in the manner of a Nazi salute, and to react to the phrase ‘Do you wanna gas the Jews?’ Meechan was arrested and convicted of being ‘grossly offensive’ under the Communications Act 2003, following a trial in March 2018…In April 2018, Meechan was fined £800. Meechan stated he would not pay the fine, and instead donated £800 to the Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity. In March 2019, the money was seized from his bank account by an arrestment order.”

        (4) Twitter is “allowed” to publish porn and it does publish porn. Many porn stars publish nude pictures of themselves on Twitter. Again, if Twitter decided to ban it, that would be Twitter’s decision. Twitter is a private company, not a government-owned website or a public utility, so the government cannot step in and tell Twitter that porn is now banned on their website.

        • Gingerbaker
          Posted October 13, 2020 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

          The government most certainly DOES own the bandwidth, whether it be TV, radio, or internet. Which is why the FCC has the power to regulate these industries. And why the various entities have Charters which must be renewed, and obligations to meet those Charters.

          “The only speech Twitter cannot host is speech that is already illegal.”

          And it is the government which regulates illegal speech.

          ” the government cannot step in and tell Twitter that porn is now banned on their website.

          Of course they can step in – Twitter is using US government bandwidth, just like broadcast TV stations and cable TV stations still do. Don’t mistake the fact that they have not yet stepped in as equivalent to they can NOT step in. The government regulates all media – print as well as electronic.

  9. rickflick
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I voted “anti-semitism” thinking, it potentially meant fabricating stuff too build hate against an entire group. Maybe, “depends” would have been a better choice since it really does depend.

  10. DrBrydon
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I voted for no censorship. All of the platforms have shown that their content management processes are entirely arbitrary and opaque, if not outright political. As a platform, they are protected under law for almost any content that a user posts, and they should not be making decisions about what their users are allowed to see outside the legal restrictions.

  11. Posted October 13, 2020 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    It was a tricky decision for me. I found some merit in the arguments of Steve Gerrard et al, but in the end I went with “neither” because I don’t want other people telling me what I can read about.

    I wouldn’t want to force holocaust denial tracts on people who might get upset by reading them so I wouldn’t be against some sort of filter mechanism that people can apply to the things they read on Facebook.

  12. Mark
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I voted both because:

    Antisemitism is a form of hostility that should not be tolerated towards any group.

    Holocaust Denial is the promotion of a falsehood that denies the facts of history. It is racist propaganda. It’s a sub-set of antisemitism.

    • Patrick
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Pro-choice is a form of hostility that should not be tolerated towards any group (including the unborn).

      Atheism is the promotion of a falsehood that denies the facts of history. It is materialist propaganda. it’s a sub-set of anti-theism.

      I don’t hold either of those views, but do you really want Facebook or any other social media company to be in the business of deciding what’s true and false? What you can read and cannot?

      The answer to bad speech is good speech, not censorship, government or otherwise.

      • Mark
        Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        FB didn’t decide that holocaust denial is false, nor did FB decide that the Earth isn’t flat.

        • Patrick
          Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          Facebook decided to disallow any discussion of the topic. Do you think they should also disallow flat earthers from commenting? After all, it’s not true. Where do you draw the line?

          • Mark
            Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

            Now you’re moving the goalposts from “do you really want Facebook or any other social media company to be in the business of deciding what’s true and false?” to “Facebook decided to disallow any discussion of the topic.”

            And you’re arguing with me outside the context of my comment which included HD “is racist propaganda. It’s a sub-set of antisemitism” which “is a form of hostility that should not be tolerated towards any group.” That’s not true of flat-Eartherism.

            • Patrick
              Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

              Facebook is taking a position on the truth or falsity of the Holocaust. They are going further and disallowing any questioning of it. I agree with them on the first, of course, but the banning of conversation should give anyone who shares Enlightenment values pause.

              You haven’t addressed the fact that some people feel as strongly about pro-choice arguments as you do about racist propaganda. Should Facebook ban discussions that offend them as well? If not, why do you trust them to decide what you can read?

              • Mark
                Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

                This discussion is about the survey on two SPECIFIC issues. I expressed my votes and why. That’s it.

                “Should Facebook ban discussions that offend them as well?”

                This isn’t about being “offended.” Regardless. My answer is “no.”

                “If not, why do you trust them to decide what you can read?”

                They don’t decide what I can read. I don’t necessarily “trust” them. I don’t rely on social platforms to educate me.

      • Mark
        Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        “What you can read and cannot?”

        FB doesn’t decide that, either.

        • Patrick
          Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

          The very much do decide that, on their platform. They have every right to do so, but it shows a lack of respect for freedom of expression. Principles matter even, especially, when it’s not your ox being gored.

        • Patrick
          Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          They most certainly do, on their platform. They have every right to do so, but it demonstrates a lack of respect for freedom of expression.

          Principles matter even, especially, when it’s not your ox being gored.

          • Mark
            Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

            “They most certainly do, on their platform. They have every right to do so, but it demonstrates a lack of respect for freedom of expression.”

            YES – on THEIR platform, not absolutely.

            But so what? If you want to express your hostility towards people that you hate, go to a different platform.

            • Patrick
              Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

              You’re ignoring the importance of supporting the principle of freedom of expression. You like that they’re silencing those you disagree with now. The same tools can be used to silence those you agree with.

              Hitch had something to say about that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Z2uzEM0ugY

              • Mark
                Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

                “You’re ignoring the importance of supporting the principle of freedom of expression.”

                AS and HD isn’t “freedom of expression” as we usually think of it – at least not they way I do. I don’t believe or agree that you or I have the right to threaten a group of people with what amounts to hostility.

              • Patrick
                Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

                There’s no reply link after a certain depth, so I’ll quote Mark here:

                > AS and HD isn’t “freedom of expression” as we usually think of it – at least not they way I do. I don’t believe or agree that you or I have the right to threaten a group of people with what amounts to hostility.

                Redefining expression that you don’t like as not “real” expression is an old authoritarian trick. The core point is that you either support free speech or you don’t. You clearly don’t, which means you have no standing to complain when someone censors you.

                The pro-lifers feel as strongly that supporting abortion rights is at least as hostile as you feel Holocaust denial and antisemitism are. Should Facebook therefore ban all pro-choice arguments?

                You have given up on principles so you have no way to draw a line.

              • Mark
                Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

                You obviously have an axe to grind. I’m not going to repeat myself nor further respond to your (intentional) misrepresentation of my comments in regard to why I voted as I did.

  13. Curtis
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I have become convinced that platforms that are monopolistic (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) should be required to adhere to the same speech rights as the government. Otherwise, we have certain segments of speech that are pretty close to being banned.

    If I cannot post certain views on Facebook or Twitter, then, theoretically, I have free speech but, in reality, I do not. IMO, Facebook and Twitter should be treated like a telephone company not a newspaper because there are no viable alternatives.

  14. Stephen Barnard
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Private companies and corporations have to protect their reputations, and this is especially so for companies like Facebook with broad reach and public scrutiny. In my opinion they’re perfectly justified, legally and morally, in banning holocaust denial, antisemitism, white supremacy, QAnon, ISIS recruitment, and any other content that negatively affects their reputation or that presents a public danger. These hate groups are free to publish their crap on their own websites or on other outlets that favor them. They aren’t entitled to the enormous audience that Facebook provides. This was long overdue.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      And by the way, I have a question for Jerry. How would you feel about posting antisemitic or QAnon content at face value, with no commentary, on YOUR website? I don’t think so.

      • peter alexander
        Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        My take on this interesting question.

        First, Jerry discusses tangental opinions on his blog daily. Indeed, its raison d’être seems largely to embrace competing perspectives, if only to refute them.

        Second, Jerry’s is a private, not a public blog, even if it has a public face. Facebook and twitter are manifestly public domains.

        Third, Jerry is an individual not a corporation. The latter has wider responsibilities – especially one financed by the public – to reflect the plurality of its base.

        Finally, whilst Jerry – as an individual – can be selective, Facebook – as a collective – cannot be so judgemental.

        • Mark
          Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          SCOTUS said corporations ARE people – at least for some purposes. :>)

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          Please forgive me for not refuting each of your points in full.

          Aside from scale, WEIT and Facebook are close analogs. Both are free and public and both are curated. Facebook rejects things like QAnon and holocaust denial, and Jerry rejects whatever he wants, as is his right. Both have a reputation to maintain. Suppose WEIT were suddenly to have a billion subscribers. Would Jerry then be duty-bound to publish whatever garbage came his way?

      • Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        Peter has it right. Just because big platforms like the government, universities, or Facebook should allow anybody to say anything that adheres to the First Amendment doesn’t mean I have to accept all comments. If I did that, and believe me, there are some bizarre ones, it would wreck this site as people got into meaningless squabbles over stuff. People come here largely for the comments as well as the content, and I have to police the former to keep this place running. So no, although I’m a free speech absolutist about many places, this website isn’t one of them, nor is my living room, of which this site is an extension.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

          So you’re saying that Facebook shouldn’t curate the content they publish. Just to be clear, this isn’t a First Amendment issue. They clearly have the legal right to do so, as do you. Your argument is that Facebook is different in kind from WEIT, in that it’s “big”. So is the New York Times. Would the NYT be justified in rejecting a full-page holocaust-denying ad? Would you scold them if they didn’t?

          • Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            No, we have different aims; mine is to foster intelligent discussion on various topics, which is completely different from Facebook’s aims. That purpose would be lost if I let everybody who wanted to comment come in, call people names, and derail the discussion. I really don’t understand why you’re hectoring me about this. IT IS NOT JUST ABOUT SIZE, in fact, it’s more about purpose.

            Does that answer the question?

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted October 13, 2020 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

              Not really, and I’m not hectoring you. I’m civilly disagreeing about Facebook’s responsibility.

              Your aims aren’t entirely different from Facebook’s. You want a wider audience. You like it when you have more subscribers all over the world and more interesting comments, and that’s all to the good. You shouldn’t damage your reputation by publishing false and defamatory content. Neither should Facebook. That’s my opinion and all I have to say.

              • KD33
                Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

                “But my cultural affinity with Jews is not as strong as my support for freedom of speech.” That is a very strong and admirable statement. We’d all be better off if everyone could say that about any group they identify with.

  15. peter alexander
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Pinker often quotes the delightful truism that the only defence of the good old days is a bad memory.

    I’m certain we exaggerate the nefarious impact of social media. I mean, who among this discriminating blog reads Facebook’s news output? None.

    Facebook and Twitter make the news less because they’re resonating breathlessly with the wider public, more because they’re feeding the MSM with click bait copy.

    JK Rowling might cause a kerfuffle, and indeed she may even delineate substantive arguments on either side of the controversy she stirs.

    But don’t kid yourselves it’s anything more than a minor volcanic moment. It’s not.

    When continents move earthquakes happen. And likewise, so progress elicits turmoil. And yet she moves.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      “I mean, who among this discriminating blog reads Facebook’s news output? None.”

      Huge sampling error here!

  16. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I agree, Facebook should not get into this hate speech business. Let them say it. It makes such things easier for law enforcement to monitor them and see who they are. If you think about, this is how they just took down those terrorist in Michigan. They do a lot of their organizing and planning on line. As we say, the dumber they are the easier to catch.

    I do believe Facebook and other platforms need lots more regulation just as the television and radio stations are regulated. They get away with too much and no control. Their platforms can cause great damage to entire countries with no regulation. Right now I think Microsoft is going after a large soviet hacking outfit that is attempting to interrupt our elections. They are destroying the servers these hackers use to do their crime.

  17. Gingerbaker
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    What do you think would happen if tomorrow we wake up to an announcement on Twitter that Trump has issued an Executive Order that disallows a Facebook ban on Holocaust denial, QAnon, and white supremacy because the internet is run on government bandwidth and he must act to preserve political free speech?

    He adds that he selected only the three topics listed because “there are good people on both sides” of these issues who deserve to not be censored.

    • peter alexander
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Well, you primed that question for maximum incendiary.

      But it beggars your position.

      Free speech is not about tribal loyalties. You invoke Trump to prosecute your case for censorship, when in fact you should quote Trump to elevate the very opposite: the derision, the ridicule, the contempt that such a position would evince.

      IMO you’re too precious about what should be heard: the public is not the brittle trinket you – seemingly – suppose it to be.

      • Gingerbaker
        Posted October 13, 2020 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        “You invoke Trump to prosecute your case for censorship,”

        Actually, I did the exact opposite – I invoked him to reject censorship. For all the wrong reasons. And I would not put such an action past him. He could try it.

        And I am genuinely interested in whether or not he could be stopped from doing it. How could it be argued that his maximization of political free speech is unconstitutional?

        Do we want a world where our social media is not allowed to filter out nonsense and conspiracy theory, and racism, and political interference and disinformation?

        Perhaps this is a rationale for having the power to regulate media free speech on a panel independent of veto from the Executive branch?

        Our public bandwidth is supposed to be used for the benefit of our populace, to do public good. Yet, if we do not regulate political speech, it seems to me that we may be accomplishing the exact opposite of the public good.

  18. Jay Baldwin
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    It’s bad enough that social media has become the preeminent public square. We’ll rue the day we allowed the same tech companies that built the platforms to also become its policemen.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      No, we won’t. Some other platform will come along and displace one that goes too far.

  19. Brian Bergman
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    As a college prof I show the PBS documentary “Memory of the Camps” which is like rubbing their noses in it. This is a collection of clips made by photojournalists attached to the military units that liberated the camps. The only action that could have more impact is visiting Auschwitz.

  20. De wilt
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    How can you answer those who purvey lies if the lies themselves are censored? Further, is banning something a good way to suppress its message? There is, as we know, the Streisand Effect.

    People who get their news/information from Facebook, hyperbolic headlines and sound bites are not the type of people who are interested or capable of checking the veracity of claims.

    What Facebook does is spews garbage at people who would otherwise never have encountered it. The weak minded lap this all up and, as it ends up being the only perspective they have of an issue, they see it as being true.

    Facebook is not in the business of educating people. It’s in the business of enraging them.

    If Facebook’s algorithms are allowed to convince millions of people that the Holocaust never happened or that it was a Jewish plot or whatever insane rumour, should we be surprised at the consequences?

    Probably not.

    As for the Streisand Effect, the world will not suddenly be inundated with Holocaust denial because the message is not being suppressed. All that garbage is still out there for people to find if the want.

  21. KD33
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    This example gets into an area where I have difficulty with a blanket pass for free speech. In the case of Holocaust denial, it’s not a question of offense. It’s a question of fact. Should free speech extend to cases where something is simply untrue? Not antiSemitism in the form of “Jews are evil” or some such, but “Jews did not die at Nazi hands in the period 1940-1945.” I am more amenable to editing/censoring this sort of straight disinformation. But I do acknowledge there will difficulties in this way in today’s environment (climate change, for example). And against my own inclination, I get the argument that allowing the denialism into the conversation will engage counterarguments, and evidence, to destroy it (as in the Shermer/Grobman example).

  22. Historian
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Apparently a large number of Trump supporters get their information (false as it is) from Trump himself, Fox News, or other right-wing sources. It also seems very few were motivated to do additional research. Thus, I think it highly unlikely that very many people exposed to denialism, and probably inclined to believe it, will say “Wait. Let me spend several hours checking out whether it is true.” How many Germans that fell under Hitler’s spell checked out his anti-Semitics rants? Probably very few. In today’s world conspiracy theories are running rampant, just witness the rise of QAnon.

    Free speech is a fine principle. There are great risks to society in allowing it or denying it under certain circumstances. Just be aware that allowing unfettered speech can ease the way to power of those who will outlaw it totally. During the Civil War, Lincoln took certain actions that were clear violations of civil liberties. He argued that small violations prevented a much graver event – the Union losing the war. To this day, historians and others debate whether Lincoln was justified in his actions.

    I am inclined to favor free speech, even if it is hateful. But, I do so with great trepidation. No matter which way one goes on allowing hate speech, the decision can result in the end of free speech.

  23. ladyatheist
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    You were able to familiarize yourself with content produced from those people without using Facebook, so obviously it isn’t necessary for Facebook to host it in order for other people to familiarize themselves with that junk, either.

    Considering the cesspool that Facebook has become, I have no problem with forcing that crap underground or to other sites. There are a lot of gullible people on Facebook who already believe that Democrats are running Satanic cannibalistic pedophilia rings and that wearing masks won’t prevent the spread of Coronavirus. If people can be persuaded of that nonsense, then they can be persuaded that the Holocaust never happened. Facebook “users” can actually be thousands of sock puppets that perpetrate professional troll tactics, unlike book authors who are generally actual, single, people.

    • Greg Geisler
      Posted October 14, 2020 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      I agree and this has been my position on conspiracy and fact-free content. Platforms like Facebook amplify this content a thousandfold and the consequence is the alternate reality that we currently find ourselves in. It’s not censorship to say “you’ll have to find another place to publish your nonsense”. I’ve often said that if Alex Jones was only permitted to publish his garbage in books he wouldn’t have a following.

      It’s also a cost vs benefits bandwidth issue. Years ago The Guardian established a policy of rejecting climate-denial in its comments sections. Neither they nor their readers who want to have an intelligent dialogue need to sift through unnecessary amounts of denial and obfuscation. It hamstrings constructive dialogue.

  24. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    In keeping with my position as a near free-speech absolutist, I voted “neither.” But I’ll confess to some mixed feelings on the subject. I’m not a creature of social media — hell, somedays I barely feel social enough to comment here – so I probably don’t have the most informed opinion on the subject. For those who do partake of social media, however, it seems there ought to be some civil place they can go, a place not in constant danger of devolving to the toilet stalls that some social media sites have become.

  25. Peter
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Lots of interesting discussion regarding Facebook. Are they a publisher? Perhaps not in the traditional sense. If I have a manuscript that a publisher refuses to handle I can choose to publish it myself, and at my own expense. But we have moved beyond the traditional publishing houses into a new and unknown realm. Facebook is a large corporation that makes a great deal of money for its investors by monetizing the ravings of everyone and anyone who chooses to create a page at no cost. In most cases the ravings are completely harmless, but in some cases – perhaps increasingly people (and groups) are self-publishing content that is intended to influence the opinion of large numbers of people. Frankly, I have run out of analogues for what Facebook is like in the traditional publishing world. Never before have we had a system that allows access to so many people so quickly. And so I am on the fence – should it be regulated, and by whom?

    • Posted October 13, 2020 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      I think it needs to be regulated, but not by individual corporations like Facebook where speech regulation is in conflict with making a profit. As many have pointed out, it is not really in Facebook’s interest to suppress false advertising. They might do a little for good PR but as soon as the public isn’t looking, they’ll let stuff slide through. Also, when someone invents some new kind of abuse, social media companies will only react when the public perceives it to be a problem. By then it would be too late.

  26. littleboybrew
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    I think HD should be banned as it goes against overwhelmingly established fact. At least with AS one is expressing an opinion, as vile as it might be.

  27. Wayne Y Hoskisson
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Currently I do not think we have legal concepts to deal with entities like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other world wide web based companies. Personally I think we are not the customers or consumers of Facebook and others. We are the product. Something about us is being sold. That does not mean they are selling our personal information (although I think this happens at times) but they are selling us as aggregated information such as people who shop at LL Bean, read Vice or Huffington Post, search for “the Holocaust is a lie” (or a conspiracy), Trump is the secret hero in a fight against a child sex bondage conspiracy, or Hillary is not in prison because there is no real justice with the deep state. Facebook and Twitter feed you only what their algorithms say you want to read. There is no honest, unbiased search available to consumers. Over a period of a year or so I switched from using the Google search engine to Duck Duck Go because I found that search engine suited me better mainly because any recommendations that are also advertisements are clearly marked. I am waiting to see how long that lasts.

    I am a man of leisure and independently impoverished but I do not want to waste any of my life with corporations that want to profit from me in ways I cannot control.

    When you and I search Facebook we do not receive the same information. We receive what FB’s algorithms determine we want to see. How do you censor such a system? In some ways this reminds me of C.M. Kornbluth’s Space Merchants. Everything has a name attached to it that is basically an advertisement.

  28. openidname
    Posted October 13, 2020 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    I’d be okay with Facebook placing a banner above the offending post, saying, “In the opinion of Facebook, this post is anti-Semitic and false.”

    “In he opinion of Facebook,” mind you — not “Facebook has determined,” and not just flatly stating, “This post is anti-Semitic and false.”

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted October 14, 2020 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      >But that’s just an opinion and why would that be posted?

      In nations with hate speech laws the living definition of hate speech is regulated. It’s much easier to point to the laws, and let the courts decide who is right according to the law intention.

      This is after all a UNHR issue. The global community wants human rights regulated, not being an opinion issue.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted October 14, 2020 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Only a “free speech” ideologue would be happy with not implementing the UDHR balancing free speech against other rights. And here we have empirical evidence that not combatting antisemitism leads to problems.

    Really, isn’t it time that US oversee its dated and – apparently – problematic constitution!? Anything that can be deified is dangerous.

    they are setting themselves up as the arbiters of what is “hate speech”, and it’s dangerous for anyone to do that,

    In nations with hate speech laws there is nothing like that. It is regulated by law.

  30. Posted October 14, 2020 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Hello all! I have a question, would you be okay with anything being censored on Facebook? Even Conservatives. Oh, and it’s not the Jews that are oppressing the Palestinians. Israel has made it clear many times that they want peace with giving up the city of David, their great king. But the Palestinians refuse peace without Jerusalem when that city isn’t mentioned ONCE in the Koran while it’s mentioned thousands of times in the Torah.


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