Mark Zuckerberg has found himself mired in a new controversy, this time stemming from comments he made about Holocaust deniers who post on Facebook. In an interview with Kara Swisher of recode, Zuckerberg was discussing the kinds of things Facebook does and does not take down, and he said that posts denying that the Holocaust took place would generally be allowed to stay up, though they'd get downgraded in the news feed. The backlash came swiftly, prompting Zuckerberg to clarify what he meant. The details:
- Original comments: In the interview—you can read the full transcript here—Zuckerberg notes that he's Jewish and finds Holocaust denials "deeply offensive." But, he adds, "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..."
- Further explaining: Swisher interjects to say that Holocaust deniers might indeed be intentionally lying, and Zuckerberg elaborates: "It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent." He again says some people just "get things wrong," and "I just don’t think that it is the right thing to say, 'We’re going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.' What we will do is we’ll say, 'OK, 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.'"
- The backlash: Jewish groups were among those to quickly criticize Zuckerberg's comments, reports the Guardian. "There is no such thing as benign Holocaust denial," said Stephen Silverman of the Campaign Against Antisemitism. And Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League said that "Holocaust denial is a willful, deliberate, and longstanding deception tactic by anti-Semites," adding that "Facebook has a moral and ethical obligation not to allow its dissemination."
- The clarification: Hours after the comments surfaced, Zuckerberg wrote to Swisher at recode, reiterating that he finds such denials "deeply offensive." Facebook's "goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue—but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services," he writes. "If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution" in the news feed, and it would be removed if it "crossed line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group."
- Key quote: "These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech," he said.
- The risk: At Axios, Sara Fischer writes that Zuckerberg is conscious about giving leeway to posts on free-speech grounds. But "the policy makes Facebook a target for bad actors who know they can post false and often offensive information on the platform without necessarily being removed—or in some cases, punished at all."
- Inciting violence: As Zuckerberg clarified his comments, Facebook said it will begin assessing and removing content it thinks will incite violence—at least in certain overseas nations, reports CNN. The policy, which will rely on third-party partners to make the decision, will roll out first in Sri Lanka and then in Myanmar. The New York Times reports that it's a response to violent incidents in those countries and in India that were sparked by false rumors online.
- Interesting idea: During a part of the interview involving the Cambridge Analytica mess, Zuckerberg said, "I designed the platform, so if someone’s going to get fired for this, it should be me." At Gizmodo, Rhett Jones notes that the suggestion was made in jest, but he thinks it makes sense. "At this point, it seems all too clear that firing himself would be a good step in doing what’s best for the community of 2 billion Facebook users, and the larger community of 7.6 billion people just trying to live their lives in this world."
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