The Viral Spread of Hate: Facebook Holocaust Denial and the New Wave of Online Hate, Leo Baeck Centre

This public lecture focused on the viral nature of antisemitism 2.0. In particular it presented a synopsis of the Facebook Holocaust denial problem.

Facebook and Holocaust Denial Extracts

What happened… October / November 2008:

Christoph Gunkel (German journalist) raises antisemitism in Facebook in FAZ feature article and specifically notes Holocaust denial. Facebook’s response dodges the Holocaust denial issue.

Facebook receives letters from the JIDF and Brian Cuban noting:

  • Holocaust denial breaches the terms of service
  • Holocaust denial is illegal in various countries
  • Holocaust denial groups aren’t being removed

…May 2009

Facebook changes terms of service removing prohibition on content that is “derogatory,” “demeaning,” “offensive,” “harmful,”  “defamatory,” “abusive,” “inflammatory,” “vulgar,” “obscene,” “fraudulent,” “invasive of privacy or publicity rights,” or “racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable.” Reference to content needing to abide by local law is also removed. What is still banned is content that is hateful or threatening.

Chris Matyszczyk (writing for CNET) raises the issue of Holocaust denial and it gets mainstream attention (CNN, BBC etc). Facebook responds saying it will block content by IP in countries requiring removal, but “Denying the holocaust is not a violation of our terms”.

Facebook does not meaningful respond to any of this.

…June 2009

Facebook had “a lot of internal debate“ over Holocaust denial. Jewish staff at Facebook release statements in support of not removing Holocaust denial. Randi Zuckerberg (Facebook’s Marketing Director) publically refers to “Facebook’s policy to not remove groups that deny the Holocaust”. It’s not just an interpretation of existing policy, it is now an overriding policy in its own right.

Other Facebook statements:

“We abhor Nazi ideals and find holocaust denial repulsive and ignorant. However, we believe people have a right to discuss these ideas and we want Facebook to be a place where ideas, even controversial ideas, can be discussed.” – Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt

“Holocaust denial is obviously repugnant and ignorant. Motivated by hate, it is not always clearly expressed that way. It therefore poses some of the most difficult challenges for any person or company devoted to free speech as a means to bubble up and address such repugnance and ignorance.“ – Facebook’s chief privacy officer, Chris Kelly


Facebook’s position makes the Holocaust an acceptable topic for “debate” – did it happen?

  • This will carry over into the real world
  • Holocaust remembrance and education will be challenged and accusations of conspiracy will increase
  • This feeds conspiracy theorists as well as white supremacists and racist parties like the UK’s BNP, it adds to hate propaganda such as “The Jews made up the Holocaust to extort money” and “The Jews control the media but their lies are coming undone!”

In Facebook the memory of the Holocaust is being abused for political purposes (e.g. “Gaza Holocaust”)

  • This is becoming a catch cry
  • It trivialises the Holocaust
  • It grossly exaggerates Gaza’s suffering
  • It demonizes Israel

That people, and Jews in particular, in a position to stop this would refuse to take action concerns me. Some possible explanations are:

  • Lack of knowledge about antisemitism (i.e. Jew hate)
  • Lack of understanding of the danger of Holocaust denial
  • Demonstrates over compensation for being Jewish / discomfort in standing up for Jewish people’s rights

The conspiracy element can now grow virally. Facebook Holocaust denial groups:

  • link to videos on YouTube
  • Link to other groups in social media sites
  • Link to hate websites
  • Inject the very elements needed to make hate go viral: the infrastructure, the time, and a gullible audience.

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