Voice of the Jewish News: Two billion people are now better protected
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Voice of the Jewish News: Two billion people are now better protected

This week's editorial reflects on the banning of Holocaust denial by social media giant Facebook

Jewish News
Facebook (Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)
Facebook (Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)

Twenty years ago, an American academic historian won her London libel trial against a British author and Holocaust denier, prompting The Times to write in an editorial that “history had its day in court and scored a crushing victory”.

Mark Zuckerberg, boss and co-founder of Facebook, was 15 years old when Professor Deborah Lipstadt and her lawyer, Anthony Julius, beat the litigious David Irving. While history was being made in court, Zuckerberg was in the playground.

No doubt the tech magnate-to-be was by then learning historical truths, alongside the importance of letting people speak their own truth, no matter how bonkers, brazen or offensive. After all, knowledge only blossoms under free expression.

It was, therefore, no surprise to hear him speak this week of the
“tension” he has felt between banning Holocaust denial or distortion from the online platforms he owns and allowing his users to engage
freely in it.  

Legally, Zuckerberg was fine to allow it for as long as he has – the US constitution sees to that. But morally it had become an increasingly sticky wicket, which he appeared to acknowledge this week when he said
Facebook would no longer allow it.

More than anyone, he has a bird’s-eye view of the ‘fake news’ post-truth online juggernaut screaming along the networks he oversees, as well as the radicalising harm it does. He profits from it. His algorithms even facilitate it. 

No more.

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The ban is late, welcome, and likely to be tough to implement, because distortion and revisionism are nuanced. 

To help, Zuckerberg might read Lipstadt’s 1993 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.

He was only nine when Lipstadt wrote the book, but he will see that what stood then stands now: that because Holocaust denial has no basis in fact, deniers often have an ideological agenda, be that exonerating the Nazis, rehabilitating Fascism or taking part in that age-old past-time of vilifying Jews.

Get the implementation right, however, and some two billion Facebook users will be better protected from online hatred. 

It may even prompt The Times to write that “history had its day online and secured that crushing victory”.

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