Updated 7/19/18: Mark Zuckerberg has apologized for defending holocaust deniers. You can read his statement below.
Facebook keeps finding new ways to stumble into self-made disasters. There’s the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a Trump campaign-backed company was given the data of 50 million users without their knowledge. Facebook has also been blamed for the viral proliferation of fake news and conspiracy theories. But this latest blunder might take the cake: CEO Mark Zuckerberg defends Holocaust deniers in his latest interview.
In his brand-new interview with Recode, author Kara Swisher asked about Facebook’s reluctance to ban sites like InfoWars from its platform. InfoWars, run by Alex Jones, is infamous for spreading conspiracy theories like the disgusting idea that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which killed 20 children, was a hoax.
Zuckerberg says he keeps two principles in mind when keeping InfoWars and sites like it around: “giving people a voice” and “keeping the community safe.”
He says, “The approach that we’ve taken to false news is not to say, ‘You can’t say something wrong on the internet.’ I think that that would be too extreme. 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.”
(Zuckerberg doesn’t mention how InfoWars’ peddling of the Sandy Hook conspiracy theory has resulted in the parents of the dead children being harassed by Alex Jones’ idiotic followers.)
Swisher calls Zuckerberg on this by pointing out, “‘Sandy Hook didn’t happen’ is not a debate. It is false. You can’t just take that down?” And, though it’s hard to imagine, Zuckerberg somehow found the worst possible response.
Mark Zuckerberg defends Holocaust deniers
Zuckerberg responded to her question thus:
“I agree that it is false. I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, ‘Hey, no, you’re a liar’ — that is harassment, and we actually will take that down. But overall, let’s take this whole thing closer to home …
“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.”
“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.'”
Apparently saying that the Holocaust didn’t happen is the same thing as posting “The sky is green.” Yes, both statements are factually incorrect, but the latter doesn’t empower racist hate groups.
Facebook moderators are instructed not to remove fringe groups or hate speech
While it’s awful that Mark Zuckerberg defends Holocaust deniers, it’s not just his own personal beliefs. The U.K.‘s Channel 4 just aired a documentary called Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network. In the film, an investigative journalist went undercover at CPL Resources, a company Facebook has outsourced moderation duties to since 2010.
The documentary revealed that moderators were told to take a very light hand with moderation, including not deleting violent and racist content. Pages belonging to far-right groups were also allowed to stay on Facebook and given wider reign than other, more legitimate organizations.
For example, Facebook has previously banned lesbian users for using the word “dyke” to describe themselves, but will allow racist groups to use other hateful epithets for people of color.
The documentary also discovered that moderators were told to ignore content that showed a child below the 13-year-old age limit, even if that content includes abuse or self-harm.
Despite Facebook’s occasional attempts to clean itself up, it’s clear the social network isn’t interested in actually making its product better. In the Recode interview, Zuckerberg said, “I want to make sure that our products are used for good.”
If that’s so, he needs to work on his definition of “good.” Hell, he should work on his definition of “the bare minimum of decency.”
Mark Zuckerberg apologizes for his Holocaust denial defense
On Thursday, July 19, Mark Zuckerberg apologized. He emailed the following to Kara Swisher:
“I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that. Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue, but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed. And of course if a post crossed line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group, it would be removed. These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.”
Facebook has yet to respond to the allegations in the Channel 4 documentary.
If Mark Zuckerberg defends Holocaust deniers, what else will he defend?
Featured image by Esteban Felix via the Associated Press