“IT’S a relief to know that Holocaust deniers won’t have Facebook as a platform anymore to spread their venom.”
That is how Sydney Shoah survivor Francine Lazarus reacted to news this week that social media giant Facebook will now ban any posts that deny or distort the Holocaust.
Lazarus, a child survivor from Belgium whose father died in Auschwitz, was among a group of Australian Holocaust survivors who had urged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to “Kick Holocaust Deniers Out” of its platform as part of a campaign by the Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC).
In 2018, Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, triggered widespread anger after stating that while it is “deeply offensive” to deny the Shoah, “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.”
On Tuesday (Australian time), the Facebook founder had a change of heart.
“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimising or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” he wrote.
“My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in antisemitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech. Drawing the right lines between what is and isn’t acceptable speech isn’t straightforward, but with the current state of the world, I believe this is the right balance.”
Speaking to The AJN, Lazarus, a long-time Sydney Jewish Museum volunteer and author, said the announcement was well overdue.
“The facts and figures are all there – the Holocaust happened. So it is a relief that Facebook is shutting down denial of a history that was so thoroughly recorded in minute detail by its very perpetrators. The fact that the perpetrators recorded their crimes – how can this be denied?” she said.
“There’s a big difference, a huge difference, between freedom of speech and the denial of a genocide.”
Removing Holocaust Denial Content https://t.co/tZU9ZsVB9D
— Facebook Newsroom (@fbnewsroom) October 12, 2020
Lazarus said the ban gives her “more confidence about returning to Facebook”, after she had left the platform “because of the hatred that is spread there”.
Stating that the decision is “something that should’ve happened a long time ago”, fellow survivor George Sternfeld told The AJN, “Hopefully other online platforms will also come on board to prevent this dangerous antisemitic rhetoric.”
Meanwhile, Melbourne survivor Joe De Haan, who lost more than 70 family members in the Shoah, described the announcement as “a very good thing”.
On Holocaust denialism, he told The AJN, “I cannot understand human beings being like that but that’s how it is … They don’t understand that they hurt so many people with this terrible antisemitic rhetoric.”
Hailing the decision as “a victory for the memory of the victims, for the heroic survivors and their families, and for humanity”, ADC chair Dvir Abramovich said, “We hope that Facebook will use all of its resources to enforce this new policy to ensure that these evil people, and their dangerous agenda, are kicked off quickly. We also urge other social media companies to follow suit and to expunge such materials from their pages.”
Stating, “This is very welcome news,” Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Peter Wertheim stressed the need for greater education on the history of antisemitism.
“We need to help fill those knowledge gaps,” Wertheim said, adding he will be participating in a “combating online hate” group meeting with Facebook today (Thursday).
Online Hate Prevention Institute CEO Andre Oboler commented, “This is not a result of pressure but of a change in Facebook itself. They have decided to join society rather than seeking to control it.
“I welcome the change and will continue the close relationship working with Facebook and other platforms to identify online hate, close the gaps in policies and improve online safety.”