Controversy continues to follow Mark Zuckerberg, who finds himself the subject of yet another Facebook-related outrage.
After a March revelation that Facebook had sold user data to Cambridge Analytica, and reports that the social media platform was used by Russians to meddle in 2016 elections, Zuckerberg has now come under fire for stating he would not remove Holocaust deniers from the platform in his new bid to take down “fake news.”
The billionaire’s interview with Recode was published Wednesday morning.
“The principles that we have on what we remove from the service are: If it’s going to result in real harm, real physical harm, or if you’re attacking individuals, then that content shouldn’t be on the platform,” said the Facebook CEO to journalist Kara Swisher.
But when Swisher asked why he wouldn’t simply take down information such as statements claiming the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax, Zuckerberg volunteered to use Holocaust deniers as an example.
“I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened,” he said. “I find that deeply offensive. 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.”
Swisher cut him off to say that some people intentionally get it wrong in this case, to which Zuckerberg responded: “It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent.”
“What we will do is we’ll say, ‘Okay, you have your page, and if you’re not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive,’” he told her.
His comments led to an uproar on social media.
“Holocaust denial is a willful, deliberate and longstanding deception tactic by anti-Semites that is incontrovertibly hateful, hurtful, and threatening to Jews,” the Anti-Defamation League said on Facebook.
“Mark Zuckerberg defending the sincerity of Holocaust deniers suggests that we may have picked the single worst person to do what is an impossible job,” wrote one user on Twitter.
“What amazes is there was no leading question here,” tweeted a NBC reporter. “Zuckerberg’s own favorite example of ‘bad speech that’s not violent’ is very fine people getting together to hone an ideology linked to thousands of years of violence that continues this second.”
By Wednesday afternoon, Zuckerberg wrote to Swisher to clarify his stance.
“I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that,” he wrote in an email to her.
“Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services.”
One user pointed out that it’s this kind of protection of hate speech that can lead to bigger crises.
“The thing that most defenders of hate speech like Mark Zuckerberg don’t get is that it’s Stage 1 of a Holocaust,” he wrote on Twitter late Wednesday evening. “Hitler didn’t start the holocaust by hearding Jews into trains. He had to poison the minds of Germans first so that they would gain the ‘Lock them up’ mentality.”
Zuckerberg’s philosophy appears to differ.
“These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech,” Zuckerberg said in the email to Swisher.
Facebook’s policy aims to “reduce the distribution of misinformation” rather than taking it down, according to a statement from a representative to CNBC.
“[That] strikes the right balance between free expression and a safe and authentic community,” continued the statement.
It is unclear if this statement was made before the social media furor.
[Photo: Mark Zuckerberg speaks to participants at a show in Paris, France in May 2018. By Chesnot/Getty Images]