Facebook algorithm found to push Holocaust denial to users
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Facebook algorithm found to push Holocaust denial to users

UK counter-extremism group says social media giant’s platform suggests denial content when users search for the word ‘Holocaust.’ and that those pages then offer even more links

The Facebook 'Like' logo at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, March 28, 2018. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
The Facebook 'Like' logo at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, March 28, 2018. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Facebook’s algorithm for suggesting content that may interest users has actively promoted Holocaust denial pages, according to the findings of a UK-based research institute reported in the Guardian newspaper on Sunday.

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a UK-based counter-extremist organization, found that following public pages with Holocaust denial content caused Facebook to recommend additional pages pushing the same ideas.

Just searching for the word “Holocaust” on Facebook’s search function brings up suggestions for denial pages and that those pages then recommend links to publishers of revisionist and denial literature, including that of British Holocaust denier David Irving, according to the ISD.

“Facebook’s decision to allow Holocaust denial content to remain on its platform is framed under the guise of protecting legitimate historical debate, but this misses the reason why people engage in Holocaust denial in the first place,” Jacob Davey, ISD’s senior research manager told The Guardian.

“Denial of the Holocaust is a deliberate tool used to delegitimize the suffering of the Jewish people and perpetuate long-standing anti-Semitic tropes, and when people explicitly do this it should be seen as an act of hatred,” he said.

IDS found 36 Facebook groups with 366,068 followers which are specifically dedicated to Holocaust denial or host content.

Holocaust denial content is also easily accessible on other social media platforms such as Twitter, Reddit and YouTube, the IDS said. On Twitter, it found 19,000 items containing the denial phrase “Holohax,” 2,300 items on Reddit and 9,500 on YouTube, all of which were created in the past two years.

On Twitter, among the top 20 most retweeted messages containing the phrase “Holohoax,” 14 included explicit Holocaust denial material.

According to the ISD, social media companies should do more to address the problem.

“Our findings show that the actions taken by platforms can effectively reduce the volume and visibility of this type of antisemitic content,” said ISD research coordinator. Jakob Guhl. “These companies therefore need to ask themselves what type of platform they would like to be: one that earns money by allowing Holocaust denial to flourish, or one that takes a principled stand against it.”

The researchers noted that Reddit users themselves are effective at discrediting Holocaust denial, alongside the banning of groups dedicated to the subject and moderators deleting related comments, all of which helped reduce exposure to such content, the newspaper said.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote speech at F8, Facebook’s developer conference, in San Jose, California, May 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

“We take down any post that celebrates, defends, or attempts to justify the Holocaust,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Guardian. “The same goes for any content that mocks Holocaust victims, accuses victims of lying, spews hate, or advocates for violence against Jewish people in any way.”

“We also remove groups and pages that discuss Holocaust denial from recommendations and references to it in search predictions,” the spokesperson continued. “While we do not take down content simply for being untruthful, many posts that deny the Holocaust often violate our policies against hate speech and are removed.”

“Striking the right balance between keeping people safe and allowing free speech is difficult and we know many people strongly disagree with our position,” the Facebook spokesperson said. “We are constantly developing and reviewing our policies and consulting with organizations around the world to ensure we’re getting it right.”

Facebook is under pressure to fight abusive and deceitful content on its platform — amid a boycott by advertisers — while fending off accusations it unfairly stifles politically conservative voices.

Last Tuesday Facebook announced it was banning conspiracy theories about Jewish people “controlling the world” from its platform and that of its Instagram media sharing site.

The ban will cover “certain kinds of implicit hate speech” and will also include content depicting blackface, it said.

The announcement came after a monthlong boycott of advertising on Facebook spearheaded by a coalition of civil rights groups led by the Anti-Defamation League. More than 1,000 companies participated in the boycott, which was meant to protest Facebook’s lack of action against hate speech.

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