Facebook Bans Content That Denies the Holocaust

Mark Zuckerberg said he's 'struggled with the tension' between free expression and harm

Photo of Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg has previously defended allowing Holocaust denial on his platform. Getty Images
Headshot of Scott Nover

After years of criticism over its policies, Facebook rules now explicitly ban content that denies or distorts the truth about the Holocaust.

The company’s decision—the latest in a slew of new policies aimed at cracking down misinformation from its feeds—comes amid a “rise in anti-Semitism globally,” and an “alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people,” Facebook vp of content policy Monika Bickert said.

Beginning later this year, the platform will direct users who search for keywords related to the Holocaust to “credible information” off the platform. The company did not say what sort of sources it would direct users to.

Bickert cited a recent survey from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which found that 25% of U.S. adults, ages 18-39, said they thought the Holocaust was made up or exaggerated—or they weren’t sure. 

Facebook said it worked on this new policy with the World Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, among others. Notably, the prominent civil rights group the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group that has been heavily critical of Facebook’s policies on hate speech, was not mentioned. 

The ADL and its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, spearheaded a large-scale advertiser boycott of Facebook this summer, dubbed the Stop Hate for Profit movement. Greenblatt has also recently worked with a group calling itself the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a coalition of external critics discontent with how Facebook holds itself accountable. 

“Since 2011, ADL has been calling publicly and privately for Facebook to change its policies to classify Holocaust denial on its platform as a form of hate speech, because Holocaust denial is most certainly hate speech,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “While Facebook has made numerous positive changes to its policies since that time, it stubbornly had held onto this outrageous platform policy, even in the face of the undeniable threat of growing antisemitism and antisemitic violence around the world.”

Greenblatt called on Facebook to take “meaningful and comprehensive steps to ensure that Holocaust deniers are no longer able to take advantage of Facebook’s various platforms to spread antisemitism and hate” and to follow up with regular progress reports about its enforcement of the new policy.

In a post on his own profile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, said that the company has previously removed “posts that praise hate crimes or mass murder, including the Holocaust,” but due to rising anti-Semitism, felt the need to expand its policy.

“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” Zuckerberg 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. 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.”

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who, like Zuckerberg, is Jewish, wrote that the decision has “special meaning” for her following the recent Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

Zuckerberg previously defended letting Holocaust deniers have a voice on his platform.

“I find that deeply offensive,” Zuckerberg said in a 2018 interview with Recode. “But at the end of the day, 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.” One day after the interview, he clarified that he “absolutely didn’t intend to defend” Holocaust deniers.

@ScottNover scott.nover@adweek.com Scott Nover is a platforms reporter at Adweek, covering social media companies and their influence.