Sunday, June 7, 2009

Facebook and Holocaust Denial.

Controversy has been reignited after it emerged that the Facebook has refused to close groups that promote Holocaust denial. Although the social networking site's position in this matter is not new, this story has seemingly gained some traction recently in the media.

Perhaps one of the loudest voices opposing the corporate line is Brian Cuban who is leading the charge to get Facebook to remove these groups. After a story from Chris Matyszczyk of CNET covered Cuban on this issue, it drew an official response from Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt:

The bottom line is that, of course, we abhor Nazi ideals and find Holocaust denial repulsive and ignorant. However, we believe people have a right to discuss these ideas and we want Facebook to be a place where ideas, even controversial ideas, can be discussed. Of course, we have some limits.

Then Schnitt in a recent interview with CNN said:

"It's a difficult decision to make. We have a lot of internal debate and we bring in experts to talk about it," Schnitt said. "Just being offensive or objectionable doesn't get it taken off Facebook. We want it [the site] to be a place where people can discuss all kinds of ideas, including controversial ones.

Cuban responded in an open letter to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg:

The Holocaust Denial movement is nothing more than a pretext to allow the preaching of hatred against Jews and to recruit other like minded individuals to do the same. Allowing these groups to flourish on Facebook under the guise of “open discussion” does nothing more than help spread their message of hate. Is this the kind of open discussion that Facebook wants to encourage? Is this really where you want to draw your line?

It is undisputed that as a collective , Holocaust Deniers are overwhelmingly antisemitic. One cannot be separated from the other. They use a fringe, discredited historical theory as a pretext and rallying point to perpetrate and promote their message of hate using Facebook as recruiting ground. By allowing these groups whether they number 1 or 1000, Facebook is not promoting open discussion of a controversial issue. It is promoting and encouraging hatred towards ethnic and religious groups, nothing more.

By claiming open discussion as the rationale for allowing these groups to exist, Facebook is playing games with semantics. Facebook is taking form over substance to protect their imaginary subjective corporate line in the sand they have drawn.

Some have also argued that Facebook picks and chooses which groups are being removed 'setting a subjective standard' and that "there is no First Amendment right to free speech in the private realm." They note that Facebook bans pictures of breastfeeding mothers because of nudity, yet isn't prepared to stand against closing groups that are illegal in at least 13 countries. It is also interesting to note that while it was reported that Facebook took down the group HoloHoax, that appears to be inaccurate.

The Guardian breaks it down:

But perhaps the argument is really about where Facebook puts it priorities. Given that the company runs a 150-strong team of so-called "porn cops" to patrol for risque images - profiled at length recently in Newsweek - why does it feel that hate speech isn't worth the same amount of trouble?

The battle for corporate interests versus social responsibility has begun.

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