I wonder how management at Facebook might have reacted should they have come across some of President Obama's words Friday.
The president was speaking at the Buchenwald concentration camp, one of whose sub-camps, Ohrdruf, was liberated by his own great uncle. And he made sure to express his own feelings very clearly on a subject that Facebook believes should freely be discussed, Holocaust denial.
"To this day, there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened--a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful," he said. "This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history."
Facebook's defense for allowing Holocaust denial groups on its site centers around the notion that Holocaust denial is not, in itself, hateful. The company terms of service., although it finds Holocaust denial "repulsive and ignorant," Holocaust denial groups do not contravene its
Facebook's terms are very clearly written: "You will not post content that is hateful, threatening, pornographic, or that contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence."
So the president says Holocaust denial is, by its very definition, hateful, while Facebook insists it is not.
However, just the briefest visit to one Facebook group, Holohoax, produces wall posts such as this: "Jews are pretty good liars most of the time, but they tell so many lies they are bound to trip themselves up sometimes. Their exaggerations, half-truths, and outright inventions about the so-called "Holocaust," easily the most lied-about topic ever, are a good example."
Such groups are generally small. Holohoax has 40 members, whereas a newer counter-group, United Against Holocaust Denial on Facebook, has more than 40,000.
However, in light of the president's comments, might Facebook decide to apply its own terms of service against many groups, not just Holocaust denial groups, that seem to have only a hateful purpose?
Here's just one example: "I Hate Muslims in Oz."
Surely this group, by its very name, just might have fallen foul of Facebook's hateful content rule.
Should Facebook decide to make a stand for its own terms of service, it would not be an affront to free speech. It would be a statement about what kind of brand Facebook chooses to be.
eBay and Yahoo made a clear and simple stand against the sale of Nazi memorabilia on their sites. And this was in 2001. Both companies decided they simply didn't want to be associated with that kind of thing.
Of course, Facebook could also decide to change its terms of service and remove the stricture against hateful posts. That would also make things clear.