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Facebook bans Holocaust denial content

Co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg once said he didn't think such content should be removed.

Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook on Monday updated its hate speech policy to prohibit "content that denies or distorts the Holocaust," the World War II genocide of Europe's Jewish population by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.

"Our decision is supported by the well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally and the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people," Monika Bickert, vice president of content policy, said in a release. "According to a recent survey of adults in the US aged 18-39, almost a quarter said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, that it had been exaggerated or they weren't sure."

Later this year, it'll also start directing people who search for terms linked to the Holocaust or its denial to credible information outside the social network, Bickert noted. Around 6 million Jews -- two-thirds of Europe's Jewish population -- were killed between 1941 and 1945, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In 2018, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg sparked outrage for saying Holocaust denial shouldn't be removed from the site because he didn't think "that they're intentionally getting it wrong." He outlined his shift in stance in a Facebook post Monday.

"I've struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust," he wrote. "My own thinking has evolved as I've seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech."

It wasn't the first time Facebook faced criticism from the Jewish community. In 2017, ProPublica discovered that marketers could target ads to "Jew haters" and Facebook removed those ad categories. 

Civil rights groups have also campaigned for Facebook to do more to combat hate speech, getting celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Katy Perry to "freeze" their Facebook and Instagram accounts, putting pressure on the company.

On Monday, the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement that it's "relieved" that Facebook is removing Holocaust denial content. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement that the group has been calling on the social network to classify Holocaust denial content as a form of hate speech since 2011. He said he thinks that Facebook is making the change now because of increased pressure from civil rights groups, lawmakers and others.

"Whatever forces led Facebook to make this decision, we believe it will have a positive impact on the experience of Jewish users on their platform. It is an important move especially at a time when anti-Semitism is rising around the world," Greenblatt said. 

Facebook said the new policy only applies to Holocaust denial content but not other genocides.

"It acknowledges that Holocaust denial is a type of hate speech that goes beyond denying or distorting facts about a genocide and is used to attack and direct hate at Jewish people," a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement.

She added that "all tragedies are horrific" and noted Facebook has rules against praising any hate crime or mass murder, mocking victims of these events and promoting "dangerous" organizations and people that perpetrate these events.

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