Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said on Monday that the social media platform was updating its policy to ban content that denies the Holocaust, the mass genocide event carried out between 1941-’45 that led to the killing of about six million Jews.

“We’ve long taken down posts that praise hate crimes or mass murder, including the Holocaust,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “But with rising anti-Semitism, we’re expanding our policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust as well.” He added that if anyone searches for the Holocaust on the social media platform, they will be directed to “authoritative sources” to receive accurate information.

The Facebook founder said he had struggled between standing for free expression and the damage caused by minimising or denying the mass genocide event. He said that his thinking has evolved as he has seen data revealing an increase in anti-Semitic content. “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,” he added.

In 2018, Zuckerberg had in an interview with Recode, a technology news website, said that he found content denying the Holocaust “deeply offensive”, but had added that he did not believe it should be taken down because people did not intentionally get it wrong. Zuckerberg is Jewish by religion.

However, later, he had issued a clarification after his comments faced backlash. “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that,” he said.

The social media platform had banned hate speech content, including those that were anti-Semitic, according to BBC. However, Holocaust denial was not banned.

In a statement on Monday, Vice President of Content Policy at Facebook Monika Bickert said the announcement to remove Holocaust denial content marks another step in the company’s effort to fight hate on the social media platform.

“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. 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.”  

— Facebook Vice President of Content Policy Monika Bickert

She said that Facebook has already banned more than 250 white supremacist organisations and changed its policies to tackle militia groups and far-right conspiracy theory QAnon. Bickert said that 22.5 million, or 2.25 crore, pieces of hate speech content was removed from the social media platform in the second quarter of the year. “Following a year of consultation with external experts, we recently banned anti-Semitic stereotypes about the collective power of Jews that often depicts them running the world or its major institutions,” she added.

Bickert said that enforcing policies cannot be done overnight. “There is a range of content that can violate these policies, and it will take some time to train our reviewers and systems on enforcement,” she said.

Facebook policies on hate speech, fake news

Facebook’s policies on hate speech and misinformation have faced flak and many of its employees have protested against them, demanding that company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, who holds majority of the share, change his stance.

In September, a Facebook employee had resigned saying that he no longer wanted to work for an organisation that was “profiting off hate”.

Further, Facebook was accused to have had an important role in the 2016 election of United States President Donald Trump, by boosting false news reports and Russian disinformation campaign while allowing the president’s campaign to deliver targeted messages to voters.

On August 14, an article published in The Wall Street Journal alleged a nexus between Facebook and the Bharatiya Janata Party and claimed that the social media platform was opposed to the idea of removing incendiary posts by the party leaders, warning that this could hurt the company’s “commercial interests” in India. Company’s public policy director for India head Ankhi Das had also not revealed that Facebook had deleted fake news pages connected to the saffron party, according to the report.

Facebook has also faced criticism for not fact-checking political ads. It had cited freedom of expression as the reason for letting politicians like Trump post false information about voting. However, the company had on September 3 announced several steps to reduce “the risks of post-election confusion”, including not accepting new political advertisements a week before the November 3 presidential polls in the United States.