Mark Zuckerberg criticised for ‘highly problematic’ Holocaust denial remarks

Mark Zuckerberg criticised for ‘highly problematic’ Holocaust denial remarks

Social media boss criticised by head of HET after he said in an interview that the site did not remove some offensive material

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

The head of the Holocaust Educational Trust in the UK has described comments from Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg defending the right of people to “get things wrong” by denying the Holocaust on social media as “highly problematic”.

The angry reaction follows an interview with Recode in which Zuckerberg said Facebook had decided not to remove Holocaust deniers from the popular platform because their intent could not be implied.

After a firestorm of criticism online, he subsequently clarified that he “absolutely did not intend to defend the intent of people who deny that [the Holocaust]”.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET), was among those who reacted with disbelief to Zuckerberg’s interview, in which he discussed free speech and Facebook’s role in policing ‘fake news’ and misinformation.

“The approach that we’ve taken is not to say, ‘you can’t say something wrong on the internet,’ I think that that would be too extreme,” he said in the interview.

“Everyone gets things wrong, and if we were taking down people’s accounts when they got a few things wrong, then that would be a hard world for giving people a voice and saying that you care about that.”

He said if something were “going viral or getting distribution on Facebook within any given day, I do think we have a responsibility to make sure that those aren’t hoaxes and blatant misinformation”.

Discussing what would be taken down, he said: “If it’s going to result in real harm, real physical harm, or if you’re attacking individuals, then that content shouldn’t be on the platform.”

He then added: “I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened. I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

He said: “It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly. I’m sure you do. I’m sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, and I just don’t think that it is the right thing to say, ‘we’re going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong,’ even multiple times.”

His later statement read: “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”

He added: “These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.”

Pollock, CEO of the Holocaust Educational Trust said in a statement:  “Denying and distorting the truth of the Holocaust is antisemitism and constitutes hate speech. 

“Free speech is a fundamental value of our society, but when it comes to Facebook pages entitled “Anti Holocaust” or “Holohoax” that actively churn out antisemitic propaganda, you have to ask whether values of tolerance and positive race relations are being upheld.

“Images of a burning Star of David captioned, “Now we’re burning your flag, don’t force us to burn you” or calling the Holocaust “the greatest scheme” are deliberate and inciteful. Mr Zuckerberg should take the lead and stamp out Holocaust denial and antisemitism from his platform.”

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