Andre Oboler comments to the Australian Jewish News on Facebook and Holocaust denial

Chantal Abitbol, Facebook refuses to ban all Holocaust-denial groups, The Australian Jewish News, 15 May 2009, pg 8

Social Networking site Facebook is facing mounting criticism in Australia and overseas after refusing to ban Holocaust-denial groups from its site.

Despite international pressure calling for the popular website to block Holocaust-denial groups, Facebook said it does not take down groups that “speak out against countries, political entities, or ideas”.

The popular site, however, has recently begun to remove Holocaust-denial content in countries such as Israel and Germany, where Holocaust denial is illegal. There are also reports that two other Holocaust-denial pages available in Australia were recently removed.

Facebook’s policy has outraged Australian Jewish groups, which argue that denying the Holocaust is racial vilification – not legitimate speech – and illegal under Australia’s current laws.

“Facebook’s failure to take action over racism on its site was unacceptable,” said B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation chairperson Tony Levy.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in anti-Semitic attacks in Australia. We call on Facebook to remove racist and anti-Semitic material immediately,” Levy said.

Facebook, however, has defended its policies.

“The goal of these policies is to strike a very delicate balance between giving Facebook users the freedom to express their opinions and beliefs – even those that are controvertial or that we may find repulsive – while also ensuring that individuals and groups of people do not feel threatened or endangered,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement to The AJN.

The spokeswoman said the popular site draws the line with groups that are sponsored by “recognised terrorist organisations” or threaten violence.

But social media expert Dr Andre Oboler, who specialises in anti-Semitism online, said Facebook does not have its “balance” right.

In his recently published paper titled The Rise and Fall of a Facebook Hate Group, Dr Oboler examined Facebook’s recent inaction over the controversial Facebook page of the group called “Israel is not a Country! Delist it from Facebook as a Country”.

Eventually, grassroots-activists, the Jewish Internet Defence Force took control of the site in late July 2008 and began to manually dismantle it from the inside.

“Facebook is looking for excuses not to take action,” said Dr Oboler. “The don’t want to get on the bad side of their users and the people reading their content. They just want to sit there and watch the money pile up.”

Looking ahead, Dr Oboler said most likely it will take government legislation to block online hate in user-generated content.

“The clock is slowly ticking,” Dr Oboler said. “If it doesn’t come from within Facebook, it’s going to come through government and be taken out of their hands.”

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