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13 May 2009

Holocaust Deniers Gather on Facebook

Holocaust Deniers Gather on Facebook

Two bloggers, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch and Brian Cuban of The Cuban Revolution, have been hammering the social-networking site Facebook in recent days for refusing to delete the accounts of groups like “Holohoax” and “Holocaust: A Series of Lies,” which act as forums for Holocaust deniers.

On Tuesday, in a post headlined “Facebook Remains Stubbornly Proud Of Position On Holocaust Denial,” Mr. Arrington wrote:

Facebook is apparently done talking about Holocaust denial for now. A couple of groups that got more out of hand than the rest were taken down, but the company’s policy of permitting the groups on the site remains.

As ABC News reported on Tuesday, Facebook has removed some groups, but stopped short of an outright ban on helping Holocaust deniers to network:

Facebook said it disabled two other controversial groups, “Based on the facts? There was no Holocaust” and “Holocaust is a Holohoax.”

But despite stating that the company finds “Holocaust denial repugnant and ignorant,” it has decided to let three groups continue to exist.

“We have spent considerable time internally discussing the issues of Holocaust denial and have come to the conclusion that the mere statement of denying the holocaust is not a violation of our terms,” Brian Schnitt, a Facebook spokesman, told ABCNews.com in an e-mail.

Schnitt said, however, that in countries where it is illegal to deny the Holocaust, such as Germany, France and Austria, Facebook has decided to ban all Holocaust denial groups.

On Sunday Mr. Cuban wrote in an open letter to Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, on his blog:

By allowing these groups whether they number 1 or 1,000, Facebook is not promoting open discussion of a controversial issue. It is promoting and encouraging hatred towards ethnic and religious groups, nothing more.

By claiming open discussion as the rationale for allowing these groups to exist, Facebook is playing games with semantics. Facebook is taking form over substance to protect their imaginary subjective corporate line in the sand they have drawn.

In an e-mail interview with a blogger for CNET, Mr. Schnitt, the Facebook spokesman, framed the matter in terms of free speech:

The bottom line is that, of course, 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.

Mr. Arrington, who has also ridiculed Facebook for allowing Holocaust deniers to post their opinions on the site, but not allowing some photographs showing women breast-feeding, urged Facebook to take a more black-and-white approach to the issue:

Sure, we can’t shut down the dark places on the Internet where people are free to hate Jews and post pictures of breast feeding mothers. But Facebook can take a stand and say it won’t happen in their back yard. Holocaust denial is hate speech, and it cannot be given a place to take root.

This isn’t a slippery slope, Facebook. It’s evil. Pure evil. Don’t plant a flag on the wrong side of the line. Stand firm against racial and religious hatred, even if you don’t have to. You’ll look back in fifty years and be proud that you did.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz noted that “Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, a Jewish former Harvard University student.”

Mr. Schnitt told ABC that while some employees of the social-networking service came from families marked by the Holocaust, that was not influencing their decision:

Many of us at Facebook have direct personal connection to the Holocaust, through parents who were forced to flee Europe or relatives who could not escape. We believe in Facebook’s mission that giving people tools to make the world more open is a better way to combat ignorance or deception than censorship, though we recognize that others, including those at the company, disagree.

One unexpected result of the public calls to shut down these groups is that the tiny Facebook group “Holocaust: A Series of Lies” has gotten slightly less tiny in recent days. On Tuesday, ABC reported that when a 25-year-old student from Portland, Ore. “heard that the social networking site was under pressure to ban Holocaust denial groups, he decided to join one.” A visit to the group today, which had 39 members yesterday but has now swollen to 44, shows that the student interviewed by ABC, Abbas Hodroj, posted a message yesterday linking to the ABC Web site and saying, “Hey guys, we are getting the word out there.” What exactly that “word” is though is not clear. Of the 21 comments posted on the group’s discussion wall though, 19 have been posted in the last week and at least half of those take the group to task.

h/t to Brian Cuban via Twitter

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