Facebook’s Race and Online Hate

Published as: Andre Oboler, Facebook’s Race and Online Hate, Jerusalem Post, 17 August 2011

It’s been over three years since the issue of Holocaust denial on Facebook was first raised. The truly amazing thing is that after countless protests, petitions, letters and meetings with experts, Facebook continues to refuse to recognise Holocaust denial as a form of hate. The social media platform continues to make a special exception and would rather spin and stonewall than fix a bad policy.

The danger today comes more from Facebook’s own position than from the content itself. The $70 billion dollar company’s refusal to recognise that Holocaust denial is a form of hate has continued despite advice and research from numerous experts. Facebook’s various justifications and efforts to redefine the issue seem to be the only thing that changes.

When the leading international experts on online antisemitism gathered in Jerusalem last month, the issue of Facebook’s policy on Holocaust Denial was one of many issues on the agenda. The Online Antisemitism Working Group meeting covered a comprehensive review of conferences and research reports on online hate from around the world. The experts examined new challenges that result from technological innovation, discussed recent incidents, and reviewed past challenges that were enumerated when the working group last met at the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism in 2009.

The increased concern on the Facebook Holocaust denial situation resulted from a lack of progress over the past two years and growing frustration in the expert community. In 2010 it had seemed Facebook had changed their policy without publically announcing it, but in 2011 more Holocaust denial groups appeared to be making a comeback and Facebook reasserted it’s position that Holocaust denial in and of itself was not considered by the company to be hateful. In truth, many groups and pages were only removed when the media specifically named them or published photographs of them.  Experts who had met with Facebook on behalf of their own organizations had begun to feel they were going in circles. There was not much more to be said, all the arguments had been laid out before Facebook, the logical conclusion was obvious, and yet no progress was being made.

A video conference with a senior manager from Facebook was productive on a number of other issues, particularly the question of the responsibility users with special privileges should have. In the meeting Facebook requested a policy paper discussing this proposal in more depth. The Holocaust denial issue however remained an irrational sticking point that was embedded in an unwritten corporate policy. Following further discussion, the working group co-chairs, David Matas and myself, wrote to Mark Zuckerberg to explain that Holocaust denial was in and of itself hate speech and that Facebook’s exception for “historical events” led to an inconsistency in its policies. All hate speech should be treated the same, to do otherwise is to condones certain forms of hate. Not only was no reply forthcoming, even the policy paper that was sent to Facebook at their request received no acknowledgement.

Of all the issue of online hate the working group discussed, Facebook’s Holocaust Denial policy appeared to be the only one where a company was clearly saying “won’t” rather than “can’t”. Technical problems have technical solutions; the experts on the Global Forum Working Group discussed such solutions, shared knowledge and brainstormed on new approaches. When people refuse to recognise the danger of Holocaust denial, that is a human problem, and a danger to much of the fabric of human rights in modern society. It was in response to the Holocaust and the global desire to avoid a repetition of history that much of the modern human rights framework was created.

Holocaust survivors will not be with us forever, and once they are gone it will become increasingly difficult to convince people the Holocaust really happened. Denial will become more popular and more acceptable. The Nazi’s told their victims no one would believe them even if they did survive because the reality was just so implausible. If we struggle to understand the danger when the survivors themselves write to us, as they recently wrote to Facebook, then how are we as a society going to fair once they are gone?

To see Facebook ignoring the danger and denying the hateful nature of Holocaust denial is deeply concerning. To see the ethnicity of Jewish staff brought up in official statements to support the company’s assertion that it must know what it is doing, even while ignoring the warning of so many experts, is troubling. Technology however continues to change, and with the rise of Google+, Facebook may soon have real competition. Having a choice of platform will restore power to the public and may see the start of a race to retain users. When this happens it will be up to society to assert loudly and strongly that hate has no place in our online communities, and that Holocaust denial is no exception. I wonder if we are ready for that challenge?

The comprehensive report of the Online Antisemitism Working Group, including many recommendations for different sectors of society, will be published later this year. I hope by then we will be able to report that Facebook has had a change of heart.

Dr Andre Oboler is co-chair of the Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism. He can be contacted at feedback@oboler.com

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Facebook and Holocaust Denial

Facebook urged to abandon its ‘exception’ for Holocaust denial

August 16, 2011

The Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism has called on Facebook to treat Holocaust denial as incitement to hatred.  Facebook has as one of its terms of service that “You will not post content that: is hateful … “.  Facebook has however made an exception for Holocaust denial for a number of years, and now justifies the exception as consistent with its policy, adopted after it made the exception, not to “prohibit people from making statements about historical events”.

At a meeting of the Online Antisemitism Working Group in July 2011 (Jerusalem, Israel), participants held a video conference with a senior manager of Facebook. The issue of Holocaust denial, raised by the working group in 2009, was discussed. The meeting resulted in a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive Officer of Facebook.

The letter, sent on July 12, by working group co-chairs David Matas and Andre Oboler, explained that there is no meaningful distinction between hate speech and Holocaust denial and that Facebook’s insistence on a distinction should be abandoned.  The Working Group has yet to receive a reply to this letter.  The letter is attached to this press release.

The Online Antisemitism Working Group believes the Facebook policy against hate speech should apply to all content without exception. The standard for historical events should be no different from the standard for other types of discussion. Allowing some topics, like historical events, to contain hate is equivalent to sanctioning hate and creates a serious inconsistency within Facebook’s policies. In this case the exception allows one well known form of hate speech, illegal in many countries, to be used against a particular minority group. Facebook should be asking whether the content is hateful, and if so, they should be removing it in line with their terms of service. Holocaust denial is hateful and should be removed.

The working group co-chairs have also sent Facebook, at their request, a paper on creating greater reciprocity between the power and responsibility of users in social media. The main outcome of the Working Group meeting, a comprehensive report on Online Hate, will be available later this year.

The Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism is an active and worldwide alliance of statesmen, parliamentarians, diplomats, journalists, legal experts, NGO’s and scholars.  The Online Antisemitism Working Group was established in 2009 and is Co-Chaired by David Matas and Dr Andre Oboler. David Matas is an international human rights, refugee and immigration lawyer based in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada. Dr. Andre Oboler is Director of the Community Internet Engagement Project and an expert in social media and online hate based in Melbourne, Australia.

The letter to Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg

Chief Executive Officer

Facebook

12 July 2011

The Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism requests Facebook to change its policy about Holocaust denial.  Facebook has as one of its terms of service that “You will not post content that: is hateful … “.  Complaints about posting of Holocaust denial have led in many instances to the determination that the posting was hateful.  Nonetheless Facebook makes a distinction between Holocaust denial and incitement to hatred. In the view of the Working Group there is no meaningful distinction between the two and Facebook’s insistence on the distinction should be abandoned.

The Holocaust is one of the most comprehensively documented events of all history.  There are many perpetrators who have been accused, tried, convicted, and punished.  Their trials have left extensive records including the testimony of witnesses and filings of exhibits.  There are museums and libraries throughout the world filled with documents and artifacts of the Holocaust, including Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, the Auschwitz Camp Museum in Poland and the Berlin Documentation Centre in Germany.  The remains of extermination camps still exist, such as Birkenau near Auschwitz and Majdanek.  There are films, memoires, TV programs all grounded in the Holocaust.  There are monuments where the victims were killed and the survivors now live, commemorating what happened.

One has to ask what Holocaust denial means, given this historical record.  When a person says that the Holocaust did not exist, given all these court cases, all the monuments and museums, all the memoires and films, that person is alleging a fraud on a massive scale.  If the Holocaust did not happen, the survivors, the museum curators, the historians, the librarians, the prosecutors, the judges and juries, the movie and TV producers, the reporters are not just confused or forgetful.  They are lying.

Holocaust denial, by its very nature, is an allegation of massive fraud.  The allegation of massive fraud is not separate from the allegation that the Holocaust never happened but, by its very nature, is implicit in it.  Some forms of Holocaust denial actually assert this fraud.  Others do not.  However, it is not necessary to say the word “fraud”; the allegation of fraud is there even where it is unspoken.

One has to ask further who would be behind such a fraud, if one accepts the fraud in the first place.  The answer of Holocaust deniers is the Jews.  Although much Holocaust evidence comes from non-Jews and much of the documentation is Nazi German documentation, information from survivors and the organized Jewish community is essential to the memory of the Holocaust.  Again, some Holocaust denial material explicitly accuses the Jewish community of perpetrating the fraud of the Holocaust.  However, even the Holocaust denial material that says nothing about Jewish fraud implies this accusation.  It is impossible to extricate Holocaust denial from this allegation of Jewish fraud, even where it is not explicit.

If we continue to follow this line of inquiry, one has to ask how such a fraud could be committed.  How could the media, the libraries, the museums, the courts be filled with information about the Holocaust, if the Holocaust never happened?  The answer deniers give or imply is Jewish control of the media, the libraries, the museums and the courts.  Holocaust denial is a mutation of the standard historical antisemitic smear that Jews control the world for their own evil interests.  Here too, some forms of Holocaust denial state this explicitly.  Even the forms of Holocaust denial that do not have this antisemitic conclusion out front have it hidden in the background.

On the descent to hatred, the largest movement a person has to make is the leap from the historical record to Holocaust denial.  Once that leap has been made, the belief in Jewish fraud is a small and inevitable step.

Finally, we have to ask, continuing to assume the fraud, why the Jewish community would carry out such a hoax.  The answer Holocaust deniers give, sometimes explicitly, but otherwise implicitly, is for sympathy, for support for Israel, for reparations.  Again, here we see Holocaust denial as a modern dress for a traditional antisemitic slur, the slur that Jews are greedy and manipulative.

It is no coincidence that the complaints against Holocaust denial on Facebook have led to many findings of violations of the term of service against posting hateful material. The Holocaust denial material that remains is also clearly hateful and of concern. Incitement to hatred against Jews is in fact part and parcel of the very nature of Holocaust denial. This has been repeatedly held by courts and international bodies. We would be happy to send details if this is of assistance to you.

We call on Facebook to abandon its insistence on treating Holocaust denial in a context free manner, in which it is considered nothing more than the rejection of a historical event. The context makes it clear that there is no meaningful distinction between Holocaust denial and incitement to hatred against Jews. To treat Holocaust denial as the only acceptable form of hate on Facebook is a far greater exception than to accept that this particular ‘denial of a historical event’ is a special case of historical revisionism that poses a particular danger to a segment of society. We ask that Facebook recognize Holocaust denial as a form of hate speech, issue a statement to this effect, and do its utmost to remove Holocaust denial from the Facebook platform.

Sincerely yours,

David Matas and Andre Oboler

Co-chairs, Online Antisemitism Working Group

The Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism

http://www.gfantisemitism.org

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Possibility of policing the internet?

Published as: Andre Oboler, Possibility of policing the internet?, The Australian Jewish News, March 12 2010, p10

The Community, needs to have a debate about the feasibility of policing the internet.

Over the past few weeks, the internet, and specifically social networking site Facebook, has been taking some knocks.

Commentary has come from all levels of politics. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said “we need to be deploying all practical measures” against cyber crime and internet bullying. Senator Nick Xenophon’s suggestion of an Online Ombudsman was “worth a look” according to Rudd, and Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, has noted “growing calls for broader debate on the challenges posed by new media”.

The media attention is the result of users posting illegal content, including child pornography and bestiality, on a Facebook page set up as a tribute to two murdered Queensland children. Facebook called the latest outrages “despicable”.

The Jewish Community has been expressing concern for years about the use of internet communications to attack individuals and communities.

In the last six years, with the growth of “Web 2.0” – a phenomenon that has seen the internet grow increasingly interactive – the nature of the problem has changed.

Instead of an enumerable collection of hate sites, there is now a pervading online culture of anarchy.  In this emerging online world everyone can say and do as they wish, without regard to the impacts on others or society at large.

And Facebook has been a strong promoter of this culture of freedom from responsibility.

We saw this over the last few years when the company refused to remove Holocaust denial from their platform.

It was only in 2010 that Facebook began quietly removing most, but not all, forms of Holocaust denial as matter of course.

Facebook has said the vitriol on the Children’s tribute pages was removed not only for violating the terms of use, but also for “violating the human trust” associated with the situation.

If Facebook has developed a moral compass, which balances free expression with the other legitimate needs of society, this is welcome indeed.

The real challenge in front of us is to create a safe online space by creating a positive internet culture – one where people respect others and realise that the law and society’s moral code still apply online.

The challenge for internet monoliths is to take responsibility for ensuring complaints are handled quickly.

Just recently, three Google executives were convicted by an Italian court for not acting quickly enough to protect the privacy of an autistic boy.

Any debate the community has will need to weigh up the impact and burden on the internet industry of monitoring content versus the needs, rights and expectations of society.

Other sectors have burdens – from food safety requirements to financial regulation – but, ultimately, our rights as citizens are more important than our rights as “Facebook users”.

Dr Andre Oboler is a social media expert and director of the community internet engagement project at the Zionist Federation of Australia.

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