You remember that feeling when you’ve done something kinda wrong, and you kinda get caught doing it, and everyone yells at you for doing it, and instead of just shrugging your shoulders, admitting you goofed, and moving on, you back yourself into a corner and fight tooth and nail for it? As far as I can tell, this is Facebook’s situation with not removing Holocaust Denial groups. Before I dive in, I want to thank Michael Arrington for keeping this topic alive and his ardent support of the issue.
Here are the key issues as I see them:
First, regarding Holocaust Denial. Here’s the results of the Google search for “is holocaust denial the same as anti semitism?” The answer is a resounding YES. Fundamentally, while there are many anti-Semites who do not deny the Holocaust, there are no Holocaust Deniers who are not anti-Semites.
Second, regarding Censorship/Freedom of Speech. Freedom of speech is a government issue, not a private company issue. Private companies may censor away, and they may do so legally. Facebook can choose to do whatever they want. Further, even free speech advocate Alan Dershowitz agrees.
Third, regarding precedent. Facebook doesn’t allow the Ku Klux Klan to have a group. Breastfeeding women pictures are banned. In other words, Facebook can identify hate groups and content they don’t like and has already taken it down. This is a crucial issue to me. Had Facebook never taken any proactive content cleansing actions in the past, I think they could sit safely on the sidelines. Instead, they are basically taking the position that the KKK is bad, but a Holocaust Denial group is not.
Fourth, regarding actions. I’ve seen numerous commentators (on TC) ask the equivalent of “are we supposed to monitor every conversation for anti-Semitic content and delete those too? Nope. This isn’t about one-to-one discussions, nor even private groups. This is about public groups, which rapidly turn into breeding grounds for hate crimes (which is why FB turned off the KKK’s groups).
Fifth, regarding public vs private discourse. Another issue I’ve noticed is the claim to the effect of “why bother taking down the group, this kind of hate happens anyway, and it’s better to be out in the public.” The argument here, of course, implies that if we can see the discussions these people are having, we can keep an eye on them for potential actions they might take. This is one of the silliest positions I can imagine taking, as if those who are about to commit hate crimes are just so unbelievably stupid they would do so in public. Utter rubbish.
I’ve been trying to rack my brain as to why Facebook would continue to maintain their position on this one. It certainly seems odd to me that the decision-makers here really believe leaving the groups up is the right thing to do. As I’ve looked back on other actions FB’s taken in the past, I’ve noticed one trend that seems to make the most sense in this craziness: FB doesn’t like being told what to do by anyone. They do a (crappy) site redesign, get told by the media and users alike, and stand proud. They take down pictures of nursing moms, get vilified by the press and women’s groups, and stand proud. And here we are again, doing a wrong, getting caught, getting called out on it, and again, standing proud.
On one more tangent here: personally I don’t get how anyone can be proud that they are standing up for some of the worst people on Earth. I wish they wouldn’t. There’s enough places for hateful people to rally together and commit atrocities. Facebook could decide they stand for the right thing, not the wrong.
I think they either need to do the right thing and take down these groups, or stop taking down the KKK groups and nursing moms pictures. As was eloquently said, you can’t get a woman half-pregnant.