Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared to defend Holocaust deniers on Wednesday, suggesting that online hate speech disclaiming the genocide of six million Jews is misguided rather than a matter of ill-intent.
Zuckerberg later clarified his comments, saying he never intended to defend Holocaust denial.
Noting his Jewish heritage to the Recode tech news site, Zuckerberg defended the social media giant’s refusal to remove various offensive content. Instances of Holocaust denial are “deeply offensive,” he opined.
“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,” he continued, before the interviewer interjected to disagree.
“It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent,” said Zuckerberg. “I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly. I’m sure you do. I’m sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, 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.'”
The Facebook head said the social network drew a line at calls for violence.
“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 said.
His comments were swiftly condemned by the Anti-Defamation League.
“Holocaust denial is a willful, deliberate and longstanding deception tactic by anti-Semites that is incontrovertibly hateful, hurtful, and threatening to Jews,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL, said in a statement.
“Facebook has a moral and ethical obligation not to allow its dissemination. ADL will continue to challenge Facebook on this position and call on them to regard Holocaust denial as a violation of their community guidelines,” added Greenblatt.
Zuckerberg later emailed Recode to say he had never meant to defend Holocaust denial.
“I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that,” he said. “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.”
In September 2017, Facebook came under fire after investigative reports in ProPublica and Slate showed that advertisers were able to specifically target anti-Semitic or prejudiced social media users with their ads.
ProPublica reported that “the world’s largest social network enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of ‘Jew hater,’ ‘How to burn Jews,’ or, ‘History of why Jews ruin the world.’”
Although the category was too small on its own, when adding other categories, such as the far-right, ultra-nationalist National Democratic Party of Germany, ProPublica was able to purchase ads targeting the 2,274 people who listed “Jew hater” in the “education” or “work” sections of their Facebook profiles. The ads were approved within 15 minutes.
The website also found that 3,194 Facebook users listed their employer as “German Schutzstaffel” — the German SS — and another 2,449 who said they worked for “Nazi Party.”
Facebook later intervened, but according to Slate, it was still possible to purchase ads targeting anti-Muslim and white nationalist users.
Zuckerberg’s remarks come amid mounting condemnation and calls for scrutiny of Facebook over a massive privacy breach.
In the worst ever public relations disaster for the social media giant, Facebook has admitted that up to 87 million users may have had their data hijacked by British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, which was working for US President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Cambridge Analytica, which also had meetings with the Leave.EU campaign ahead of Britain’s EU referendum in 2016, denies the accusations and has filed for bankruptcy in the United States and Britain.
Agencies contributed to this report.