Against Holocaust Denial Laws

When the Allied forces began to turn the tide of their conflict against Hitler’s Germany in 1944, one of history’s most disturbing events was about to be discovered.

Named the Final Solution by the Nazis, and subsequently known as the Holocaust around the world, concentration camps were found by Allied forces advancing toward Germany. The first major camp was Majdanek, which was found by the Russians in July 1944. This was followed by other camps in 1945.

The concentration camps were built for one reason – the extermination of the Jewish race by Hitler, in an attempt to breed the perfect Aryan race of blond hair and blue eyes.

While the exact number isn’t known, over six million Jews died in these camps – two thirds of the Jewish residents of Europe at that time. Of this number, one million children perished, along with two million women and three million men.

However, the numbers could be far more – many scholars feel the genocide of other ethnic groups by the Nazis, such as homosexuals, disabled people, Romani and other cultures, should be included. This would mean around 11 million people were murdered in the Holocaust, all because of one man’s twisted vision.

Over the years, there have been many claims by groups and individuals that the Holocaust never happened and that it was a myth created by Israel. Despite the public video footage; the images taken by Allied troops; the admittance of guilt by past Nazi generals – many still believe the Holocaust never happened.

It’s a viewpoint that’s raised questions on free speech and opinions and if, by denying the right to deny the Holocaust, people are having their own right to speak abused.

Now that debate and fight is involving Facebook.

Facebook and Free Speech

A caveat. I’m a huge believer in free speech and differing opinions, and often get shit on because of it – c’est la vie. I will admit I don’t agree on all speech being free – clear hate and sex crime/hate, for example, are some areas I feel opinions step over the line. But then does that make me against true free speech? Possibly.

That’s a personal opinion, though, and would affect very few people in the grand scheme of things (and only if I spoke out). A social network like Facebook, with over 700 million users, is a different kettle of fish. It’s a public platform that allows anyone and everyone to post (and access) status updates, thoughts, views and more.

Holocaust denial

Facebook’s policies look to encourage free speech and opinion, and rightly so. But is there a limit to which this should stop, and a different policy invoked?

That’s one of the questions currently being asked of Facebook by survivors of the Holocaust, in a plea to Facebook to remove groups that have been set up to deny the Holocaust ever happened.

In an open letter posted on the Simon Wiesenthal Center website, the survivors ask Facebook to re-evaluate their approach to what’s classed as free speech versus hate speech so that the atrocities of the past aren’t repeated.

In dialogue so far between the survivors group and Facebook, a Senior VP at Facebook has advised of the importance to “…maintain consistency in our policies, which don’t generally prohibit people from making statements about historical events, no matter how ignorant the statement or how awful the event.”

I’m not sure I can buy that.

Free Speech or Road to Conflict?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a huge believer in free speech and opinion – yet should all speech be free? Opinion is different – you can keep that to yourself. But, by definition, speech is public and has the ability to change mindsets and start movements.

A speech by Hitler in 1938 led to a movement. It resulted in the deaths of at least six million people.

I’m not naive enough to believe that had the speech never happened, the Holocaust wouldn’t have. Hitler was determined in his path to the Final Solution, and if that speech hadn’t happened, others would have (some did). Nazism was much more than words from a balcony.

But if there’s one thing that history can teach us, it’s that words can be dangerous. When hate is powerful enough, it can see words become a powerful weapon. The world saw its results from Nazi Germany. It sees its results in countries where dictators rule by force, and people live in fear of their gender, sexuality, beliefs and religion being used against them.

Free speech is important – it differentiates true freedom from state-defined freedom. The question is, if free speech is silencing voices and historical fact – and has the potential to incite violence – should it still be free?

I don’t have the answers, just my opinion. You?

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324 comments
JasonC
JasonC

If one questions the existence of anything, it doesn't mean one promotes hate. If one denies the existence of God, it does not promote hate. How does denying the holocaust promote hate?

danmoyle
danmoyle

@DannyBrown Inciting hate and violence...well-put. Although I wonder whether it's someone's "job" to stop hate (if that hate does not lead to violence)? I agree with you - I just wonder if there's a correlation. I'd say all violence is rooted in hatred, but not all hatred leads to violence. How is "hate-speech violence" any worse than "run of the mill violence?" Now I'm rambling. In any case, your post is doing what it's meant to do: make us think and hopefully stop violence/hatred at a grass-roots level. Thanks for that. Cheers.

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@danmoyle It's definitely not an easy call, Dan - my own feeling is if it incites to hate that leads to violence, it can't be condoned. I guess the problem there is where you track it back to. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, mate.

danmoyle
danmoyle

While I believe people like Holocaust deniers and the "Westboro Baptist Church" are abusers of free speech, I'm not sure shutting them down is the answer. At least not by the "authorities." I think we as citizens should continue to work to make sure the truth is known in all of these events. It breaks my heart that some people are so ignorant that they believe their "right" should infringe on other people and their rights, but it's part and parcel of free speech. I know it's not really a great answer, but that's what I have. I don't think "authorities" should shut down people/groups like that.

danmoyle
danmoyle

While I believe people like Holocaust deniers and the "Westboro Baptist Church" are abusers of free speech, I'm not sure shutting them down is the answer. At least not by the "authorities." I think we as citizens should continue to work to make sure the truth is known in all of these events. It breaks my heart that some people are so ignorant that they believe their "right" should infringe on other people and their rights, but it's part and parcel of free speech. I know it's not really a great answer, but that's what I have. I don't think "authorities" should shut down people/groups like that.

Aaqil
Aaqil

Facebook kept Draw Muhammad Day page. I was sad about it, but now I am happy with Google Plus :P

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Aaqil
Aaqil

Facebook kept Draw Muhammad Day page. I was sad about it, but now I am happy with Google Plus :P

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@Ari Herzog@margieclayman@barryrsilver Legalese is a bit different from a company monitoring their brand mentions. Besides, I would suggest they would be better off addressing the letter from the Survivors Group as opposed to a blogger just asking about free speech and instances like this.

Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

@DannyBrown I didn't imply they'd know of you, but that someone else commenting here would know his name. Based on the legalese provided by @margieclayman and @barryrsilver for instance...

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@Ari Herzog Maybe I'm not on their radar, mate. They have other things to worry about - like whether the Skype deal means they need to get a new logo with a phone somewhere in it. ;-)

Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

It is surprising a search of these comments for the name Timothy Sparapani comes up blank. He's Facebook's director of public policy and a former legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union when he was hired by the social network in 2009. Months before his hire, I met him at a Harvard conference and I recall him speaking smartly about privacy/security concerns.

I raise his name wondering where he is in this debacle.

Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

It is surprising a search of these comments for the name Timothy Sparapani comes up blank. He's Facebook's director of public policy and a former legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union when he was hired by the social network in 2009. Months before his hire, I met him at a Harvard conference and I recall him speaking smartly about privacy/security concerns. I raise his name wondering where he is in this debacle.

hackmanj
hackmanj

Inconsistent and cryptic enforcement of TOS will create legal issues and a lot of pissed off people. It will be part of their undoing. Facebook better get a handle on that now or I am afraid it will not bode well for them. You can really see the pent up frustration with Facebook in the adoption of Google+ and the zealous advocacy for the service.

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@hackmanj I think that's one of the problems, Joe, the consistency. Like ameena falchetto mentions, they'll go after groups that talk about lactating and new baby issues, but they'll happily have stuff like this up. Be consistent and be strong in enforcing that consistency.

hackmanj
hackmanj

@TheJackB You are so right Jack, seemingly normal and rational people are capable of believing extraordinarily crazy things. Where do you think the best place for people to get educated on objectivity and critical thinking is? I will definitely do my best to instill it in my offspring :)

hackmanj
hackmanj

Glad you took this on Danny. I am not sure if censorship is the answer, though I think Facebook should be consistent with their TOS and if it is a violation they should pull the plug on any group that violates it.

There are all kinds of crazy and ignorance in this world, free speech is a great thing but I can't help but think certain groups have really been exploiting this freedom.

One thing is for sure reading those idiotic statements makes me want to redouble my efforts to do good.....

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hackmanj
hackmanj

Glad you took this on Danny. I am not sure if censorship is the answer, though I think Facebook should be consistent with their TOS and if it is a violation they should pull the plug on any group that violates it. There are all kinds of crazy and ignorance in this world, free speech is a great thing but I can't help but think certain groups have really been exploiting this freedom. One thing is for sure reading those idiotic statements makes me want to redouble my efforts to do good.....

Everett Martin
Everett Martin

I guess I would prefer that Facebook be only a channel, and not an influence in and of itself. Any action to promote or repress is, to me, an unfortunate reality of them having to turn a profit and be seen as a good corporate citizen. I like the Internet as an unmitigated melting pot of ideas, where people can get viewpoints from all over the world and make better informed decisions. I would never have watched/read Aljazeera, which I now consider to be among the best MSM outlets in the world, if "the powers that be" in North America had their say in what messages I could have access to. Same goes for Wikileaks, another one of my personal favourites.

Everett Martin
Everett Martin

I guess I would prefer that Facebook be only a channel, and not an influence in and of itself. Any action to promote or repress is, to me, an unfortunate reality of them having to turn a profit and be seen as a good corporate citizen. I like the Internet as an unmitigated melting pot of ideas, where people can get viewpoints from all over the world and make better informed decisions. I would never have watched/read Aljazeera, which I now consider to be among the best MSM outlets in the world, if "the powers that be" in North America had their say in what messages I could have access to. Same goes for Wikileaks, another one of my personal favourites.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@Everett - Not sure if I'd agree with the Bell comparison. A phone call is private - Facebook is accessible to more than 700 million people, and therefore has more potential to influence someone's train of thought.

I agree, personal responsibility is key - but then, we both know there are less responsible people that don't care about facts and/or consequences. For them, moderation is often needed (think employees endangering businesses because of political or sexual orientation views being made on a public platform).

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@Everett - Not sure if I'd agree with the Bell comparison. A phone call is private - Facebook is accessible to more than 700 million people, and therefore has more potential to influence someone's train of thought. I agree, personal responsibility is key - but then, we both know there are less responsible people that don't care about facts and/or consequences. For them, moderation is often needed (think employees endangering businesses because of political or sexual orientation views being made on a public platform).

Everett Martin
Everett Martin

I think it's less important where the hosting takes place, and more important where the user is who is violating the law. To me, holding Facebook accountable for the actions of its users is like holding Bell responsible for a murder that's organized over the phone. You could say they have to monitor everything and respond accordingly, but in the end the accountability really should fall to the individuals.

Everett Martin
Everett Martin

I think it's less important where the hosting takes place, and more important where the user is who is violating the law. To me, holding Facebook accountable for the actions of its users is like holding Bell responsible for a murder that's organized over the phone. You could say they have to monitor everything and respond accordingly, but in the end the accountability really should fall to the individuals.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@Everett - It's a fair point, although much of what's said in the West is sanctioned by governments that don't want that kind of thinking shared. And I guess it boils down to where the host is - many sites may have international users, but the hosting is North American-based, so Facebook - or whatever site it may be - is within their rights to use U.S.-based laws, or similar.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@Everett - It's a fair point, although much of what's said in the West is sanctioned by governments that don't want that kind of thinking shared. And I guess it boils down to where the host is - many sites may have international users, but the hosting is North American-based, so Facebook - or whatever site it may be - is within their rights to use U.S.-based laws, or similar.

Jana Quinn
Jana Quinn

@DannyBrown Thanks, Danny! Between Oxford comma neglect and Wikipedia-supported arguments, Facebook can be a dangerous place. ;-) I certainly don't think Holocaust deniers fall into the dark humor category at all (unless we're talking about The Onion here). They're hateful idiots, to be sure, and largely ignorant. They were likely raised with that view and have entrenched themselves so deeply into it that there's little chance for a paradigm shift. That's why I think it's more important to teach logic and debate in schools that the periodic table of elements, but hey - again, not president of Facebooktopia or any school board. I think the audience is a far better barometer for dark humor versus poor taste than the subject matter. I can tell certain jokes in front of my friends that I would never say in front of coworkers. As a health care professional that works with children with cognitive impairments, I don't find any humor in jokes that include the word "retard." Then again, there are some groups that have an unexpected sense of humor; one of my good friends lost her mom to cancer earlier this year, and she was cracking jokes about her mom's death almost right away. Anyhow, I've digressed so far from my main point that I shall simply wrap it up with this: you can't present someone with an alternative viewpoint if you don't know their opinions or worldview. There are only two peaceful choices: you can either adapt a don't-ask-don't-tell policy between you and that friend on that subject, or you can have a discussion. Letting people post their viewpoints in a public forum at least opens the door for the latter.

barryrsilver
barryrsilver

@saragoldberger@DannyBrown Referring to an earlier post, this will be where we agree to disagree in a civil manner. As for Facebook, the only vote that matters belongs to M. Zuckerberg. I wold hope Mr. Zuckerberg would place more wight on the feelings of the victims. As for one person, one vote that's for elections. One of the beautiful (and most frustrating) things about living in a representative democracy is that majority doesn't always rule. Sometimes a minority requires and receives special consideration. Not that it's mine to offer, but in the name of civil disagreement I offer you last word on my contributions to this part of the stream.

LordZion
LordZion

@DannyBrown@margieclayman I'm old school, I just don't like wasting my time hearing or reading about the nonsense spewing out of the brains of blithering idiots. Life is too short for that. Shut them up at source :)

saragoldberger
saragoldberger

@barryrsilver@DannyBrown I don't see why. What happened to one man one vote? Sorry, for me that's not a road to take. Unfortunately as we have seen lately in Norway democracy and openness have a price.

barryrsilver
barryrsilver

@saragoldberger@DannyBrown I agree 100% but... shouldn't the victims of child porn have a seat at the table? And shouldn't the vote of victims of child porn carry more weight than most if not all.

TheJackB
TheJackB

I understand why people would argue that it makes it easier to identify those people who can be characterized as racists and anti-semites but I still see keeping them open as a mistake.

It doesn't identify those who don't post. It doesn't tell you who is posting under their real name and who under fake. But it does provide a global forum for 'like minded" individuals to collect and congregate. It does make it easier for them to find ways to work together and that is something to be concerned about.

And I will keep beating the drum that warns people to remember that these are not all stupid people. There are some very smart, very clever individuals who understand marketing, how to frame a compelling argument and how to use numbers.

They concern me because not everyone is smart enough to see the manipulation or educated enough to pick apart what is fact and what is fiction.

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TheJackB
TheJackB

I understand why people would argue that it makes it easier to identify those people who can be characterized as racists and anti-semites but I still see keeping them open as a mistake. It doesn't identify those who don't post. It doesn't tell you who is posting under their real name and who under fake. But it does provide a global forum for 'like minded" individuals to collect and congregate. It does make it easier for them to find ways to work together and that is something to be concerned about. And I will keep beating the drum that warns people to remember that these are not all stupid people. There are some very smart, very clever individuals who understand marketing, how to frame a compelling argument and how to use numbers. They concern me because not everyone is smart enough to see the manipulation or educated enough to pick apart what is fact and what is fiction.

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@Jana Quinn Okay, first, props for saying people should be kicked out of Facebook for abusing the Oxford comma - love it! Mind you, I probably fall into that camp at times, so I'm signing my own expulsion warrant. ;-) It's a fair point - there was a trending topic on Twitter over the weekend, with the hashtag #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend. Obviously this is something that any right-minded person would avoid - or fight. Yet there were a bunch of tweets saying it was meant to be dark humour. Thing is, like you say, there's a fine line between dark humour and poor taste, and it can open up a can of worms on other topics. Although I don't think anyone with common sense would even begin to think the Holocaust deniers fall within a dark humour category - they're simply hateful idiots.

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@margieclayman Completely agree on the double-edged sword comparison, Margie, and it's one of the biggest reasons I'm torn over the issue. My heart says take them down and ban these idiots - my head says that's a conflict with the very notion of free speech. And while I agree that keeping them in the open helps keep tabs on them, at the same time if it fair to those it's so clearly causing pain to? Not an easy answer...

DannyBrown
DannyBrown

@dariasteigman I think this is what makes this such an "interesting" conundrum, Daria (for want of a better phrase). Facebook doesn't really fall under legal jurisdiction (from what I understand), so it's on its own when it comes to any decisions about stuff like this. Perhaps it comes down more to a moral question as opposed to a free speech one?

dariasteigman
dariasteigman

This is such a difficult (agonizing) question. I once provoked a personal response from Abbie Hoffman (if you don't know him folks, google his name) over my opposition to his efforts to stop the CIA from recruiting on college campuses. My point: You don't like the CIA, someone else doesn't like the Peace Corps.
Q
But factually and historically incorrect hate speech is different. All the Holocaust denyers are doing is spreading lies, & counting on the rest of us to allow "free speech" to give them an excuse to do it. Facebook is a private company not a public square. They should shut them up (and off).

dariasteigman
dariasteigman

This is such a difficult (agonizing) question. I once provoked a personal response from Abbie Hoffman (if you don't know him folks, google his name) over my opposition to his efforts to stop the CIA from recruiting on college campuses. My point: You don't like the CIA, someone else doesn't like the Peace Corps. Q But factually and historically incorrect hate speech is different. All the Holocaust denyers are doing is spreading lies, & counting on the rest of us to allow "free speech" to give them an excuse to do it. Facebook is a private company not a public square. They should shut them up (and off).

margieclayman
margieclayman

When I was in graduate school, I had a professor, an African American, who hailed from South Carolina. One day we got in a discussion in class about how the "yanks" think they're so far above racism. After all, slavery was abolished in *most* northern states long before the Civil War. But he said something interesting.

In South Carolina, every Friday night, he could hear the KKK gatherings at the local high school from his house. He and his family stayed in. They knew where not to go. They knew who was at the gathering. It was all out in the open. When he moved to Ohio, he knew that there were KKK members around. He knew that the state was/is creeping with racists. But he couldn't pinpoint who was who. Everyone tries here to stuff it under the rug and pretend it doesn't exist.

This story came to mind after reading your post. Although there is no word I can summon that describes my full opinion of Holocaust deniers, I say let them spout their hatred openly so that we can see who they are. So that we can point to those people and say, "Yep...there are really people who would say that on an online platform."

Free speech is a double-edged sword. We conveniently call out for it when we feel our voices are being deprived, but if someone else voices an opinion we don't like (or find abominable), well, then free speech doesn't matter so much. We need to get over that hypocrisy as a modern society. But, as people spew things that are harmful and hurtful, we need to find a way to overcome those cancerous cells and improve our society...somehow. Now how to do that? I have no idea.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@danmoyle It's definitely not an easy call, Dan - my own feeling is if it incites to hate that leads to violence, it can't be condoned. I guess the problem there is where you track it back to.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, mate.

hackmanj
hackmanj

@TheJackB You are so right Jack, seemingly normal and rational people are capable of believing extraordinarily crazy things. Where do you think the best place for people to get educated on objectivity and critical thinking is? I will definitely do my best to instill it in my offspring :)

Latest blog post: Coffee Shop Insights from Dups

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@dariasteigman I think this is what makes this such an "interesting" conundrum, Daria (for want of a better phrase).

Facebook doesn't really fall under legal jurisdiction (from what I understand), so it's on its own when it comes to any decisions about stuff like this. Perhaps it comes down more to a moral question as opposed to a free speech one?

Danny Brown
Danny Brown moderator

@margieclayman Completely agree on the double-edged sword comparison, Margie, and it's one of the biggest reasons I'm torn over the issue.

My heart says take them down and ban these idiots - my head says that's a conflict with the very notion of free speech. And while I agree that keeping them in the open helps keep tabs on them, at the same time if it fair to those it's so clearly causing pain to?

Not an easy answer...

danmoyle
danmoyle

@Danny Brown Inciting hate and violence...well-put. Although I wonder whether it's someone's "job" to stop hate (if that hate does not lead to violence)? I agree with you - I just wonder if there's a correlation. I'd say all violence is rooted in hatred, but not all hatred leads to violence. How is "hate-speech violence" any worse than "run of the mill violence?"

Now I'm rambling. In any case, your post is doing what it's meant to do: make us think and hopefully stop violence/hatred at a grass-roots level. Thanks for that. Cheers.

hackmanj
hackmanj

Inconsistent and cryptic enforcement of TOS will create legal issues and a lot of pissed off people. It will be part of their undoing. Facebook better get a handle on that now or I am afraid it will not bode well for them. You can really see the pent up frustration with Facebook in the adoption of Google+ and the zealous advocacy for the service.

Latest blog post: Coffee Shop Insights from Dups

LordZion
LordZion

@Danny Brown@margieclayman I'm old school, I just don't like wasting my time hearing or reading about the nonsense spewing out of the brains of blithering idiots. Life is too short for that. Shut them up at source :)

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  1. [...] platforms like Facebook crack down on any particular person or group. But then, you find out that there are Holocaust denial groups all around Facebook, and you may stop and think, “Well, maybe we can get rid of them.” What are the [...]