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Facebook has updated its hate speech policy to ban holocaust denial, Mark Zuckerberg has announced.
The announcement was made on Monday via Zuckerberg's Facebook account. Facebook had previously banned people for glorifying the holocaust, but did not outright ban those who denied or distorted it.
Zuckerberg's platform has come under increased scrutiny from all ends of the political spectrum over its use of online censorship. Zuckerberg himself admitted in the post that he has difficulty with the "tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust." Zuckerberg has stated in the past that while he is disgusted by holocaust denial, he did not believe Facebook was obligated to remove it.
Critics of online censorship have argued that Facebook's policies effectively amount to an editorial stance, and that the site, as a social media company, should not have much control over what people can and cannot say on their platform.
Facebook has not faced such criticism alone. Platforms such as Twitter and YouTube have gone to varying lengths to suppress content which they deem as hate speech or which otherwise violates their online terms of service. Many of these platforms have been accused of employing double standards, taking a zero-tolerance policy against "hate speech" from the right while ignoring calls for violence from the left.
Many American politicians have criticized the moderation policies of the social media giants, with some going as far to call for the revocation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows social media companies to regulate content on their platform without being legally punished for failing to regulate illegal content adequately. President Trump issued an executive order reinterpreting Section 230 in May.
Many have lauded Facebook for their decision to ban holocaust denial, particularly Jewish and civil rights groups which have been campaigning for Facebook to do so for years.
Citing the worldwide rise in anti-Semitism witnessed over the previous decade, proponents of the policy change say that such policies are necessary to prevent further antisemitic violence and abuse.
The move was also praised by individuals who have spoken out against Facebook's lax policies towards holocaust denial. Actor Sacha Baron Cohen, who has been among the most prominent voices calling for Facebook to act against antisemitic hate and defamation, said that the ban was "better late than never" and that people "who deny the holocaust aim to perpetrate another." Some have accused the actor, who entered the public lexicon through duping Americans while pretending to be a racial caricature, of being a hypocrite.
However, the policy change has not completely relieved Facebook of criticism, with many arguing that the policy change is too little, too late. In the same statement, the ADL accused Facebook of only making the change due to the Stop Hate For Profit campaign, which organizes advertiser boycotts against online platforms which they allege profit from "hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism, and disinformation."
Zuckerberg, however, has been adamant that the new position of his company was the result of personal growth and reading new information. "My own thinking has evolved as I've seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech," said Zuckerberg.
Others have suggested that attempts to censor content over Facebook is largely ineffective, and may even be counterproductive. Many have suggested that suppression of hate speech only strengthens the views of those who spread it under the belief that they are being persecuted for spreading truth. Additionally, a new study from the German Marshall Fund has suggested that Facebook users interact with more misinformation today than ever before, despite Facebook's attempts to flag such information as false.
Others have also suggested that Facebook's fact checkers themselves are sometimes misinformed. Posts which appear to be true occasionally get flagged as false, partly false, or misleading by Facebook's independent fact-checkers.
However, in this case, Facebook believes themselves to be doing the right thing, with Zuckerberg stating "[drawing] the right lines between what is and isn't acceptable speech isn't straightforward, but with the current state of the world, I believe this is the right balance."
The changes will not happen immediately, with Facebook stating “[there] is a range of content that can violate these policies, and it will take some time to train our reviewers and systems on enforcement.”