Facebook algorithms accused of ‘actively promoting’ Holocaust denial

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Facebook algorithms accused of ‘actively promoting’ Holocaust denial

Report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue identified 36 Facebook groups pushing Shoah denial and containing more than 360,000 users

Holocaust denier David Irving
Holocaust denier David Irving

UK anti-extremism researchers have said social media platforms “only serve to amplify and mainstream” Holocaust denial, with Facebook algorithms “actively promoting” it.

The findings, which include 36 Facebook groups pushing Holocaust denial, are contained in a new report published by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a London-based think-tank, following an investigation.

In ‘Hosting the ‘Holohoax’: A Snapshot of Holocaust Denial Across Social Media’, Jakob Guhl and Jacob Davey examined how Holocaust denial content was “readily accessible” across Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.

Of the 36 Facebook groups, totalling 366,000 followers, nine were far-right communities, seven were described as “anti-Zionist,” 13 hosted conspiracy theorists, five comprised Palestinian supporters, one was Islamist, and one was Christian.

They found that typing “Holocaust” into the Facebook search function brought up suggestions for denial pages, which then recommended links to publishers selling work casting doubt on the Holocaust, as well as pages relating to David Irving, a disgraced British historian and Shoah denier.

He lost a high-profile legal battle against American historian Deborah Lipstadt, launched  in 1996, having sued for libel after she described him as a “Holocaust denier”.

“Using a ‘snowball’ discovery method we found that when a user follows public pages containing Holocaust denial content, Facebook actively promotes further Holocaust denial content to that user.”

Denying the Holocaust is only illegal in some countries, such as Germany, Poland and France, so Facebook says it aims to “strike a balance” between free speech and hate speech, only removing Holocaust celebration and justification.

The ISD also looked beyond Facebook – between 1 June and 22 July they found 2,300 items on Reddit mentioning ‘holohoax’, 19,000 pieces of content on Twitter and 9,500 items on YouTube.

Guhl and Davey said Facebook and Twitter “provide a home to an established and active community of Holocaust deniers” but praised video-sharing platform YouTube for last year banning denial content, which they said had been effective.

“Appropriately-applied content moderation policies can be effective in denying dangerous conspiracy theorists a public platform by examining how Holocaust denial content has decreased significantly in the past year on YouTube,” they said.

While Holocaust denial was present on Reddit, they said it had been reduced through “a combination of moderation efforts and pushback from other users”.

In response to the news, Holocaust Educational Trust chief executive Karen Pollock tweeted that “denying the Holocaust is antisemitic,” before asking Facebook to “please remove this hateful content”.

Last week Facebook said it was reviewing its policies on the removal of hate speech to include references to Jewish power and domination of politics and industries but stuck to its line when asked about the ISD report.

“We take down any post that celebrates, defends, or attempts to justify the Holocaust,” said a spokeswoman.

“The same goes for any content that mocks Holocaust victims, accuses victims of lying, spews hate, or advocates for violence against Jewish people in any way. We also remove groups and pages that discuss Holocaust denial from recommendations and references to it in search predictions.

“While we do not take down content simply for being untruthful, many posts that deny the Holocaust often violate our policies against hate speech and are removed.”

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