Hate and Holocaust Denial on Facebook
School of Social Work
The Holocaust, known as The Shoah in the Jewish community, was the attempted genocide of the Jews in Europe under the extremist Nazi regime. They succeeded in murdering 12,000,000 people and 6,000,000 Jews, two thirds of the Jewish population of Europe. Though the Nazis were defeated by the Allied powers in 1945, the effects of the Holocaust continue to reverberate in modern day society. As a result, the state of Israel was created in 1948 as a safe haven for Jews. Across the world museums such as Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum serve as educational tools to teach and remind people of the dangers of bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and extremist regimes. Every year the lives lost are commemorated on Yom Hashoah when the names and ages of the six million are read aloud. There are photographs, eye-witness reports of American soldiers liberating the camps, meticulous Nazi records and personal narratives of survivors. Several of the concentration camps used by the Nazis for mass murder serve as testaments of a terrible time. Recently President Obama visited Buchenwald, one such camp, and said it, “teaches us that we must be ever-vigilant about the spread of evil in our own time, that we must reject the false comfort that other’s suffering is not our problem, and commit ourselves to resisting those who would subjugate others to serve their own interests” (Gliksman, 2009). Despite the fact that “these sites have not lost their horror with the passage of time” around the world, and across the internet, Holocaust deniers and Holocaust “revisionists” claim that the genocide never happened, or only happened to a very small number of people (Gliksman).
In America, organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) work to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment of all” (“ADL”). They fight “anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defend democratic ideals and protect civil rights for all” (“ADL”). The JIDF, the Jewish Internet Defense Force, was created to “share concerns about online content, as well as content which promotes terrorism on sites including Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Google Earth, Blogger, and other sites and forums throughout the internet” (“JIDF”). They believe in taking “Direct action both to eradicate the problems we face online and to create the publicity that will cause those with the power (companies like Facebook and Google) to take the needed action themselves” (“JIDF”).
In America, the ADL has identified a rising “wave of hate” against Jewish individuals, communities and places of worship (“Shooting,” 2009). Just this year there has been a plot by Muslim extremists to bomb two New York synagogues, a killing spree targeting Jews in Brockton, Massachusetts, and a shooting at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. These events serve as “a painful reminder that the anti-Semites and racists are still out there, and are more prone to act on their beliefs [than in previous years]” said the National Director of the ADL, Abraham H. Foxman (“Shooting”). He states, “the danger is ever-present and we must remain vigilant” (“Shooting”).
It seems almost taboo to discuss in modern American society, but a 2007 ADL poll identified that “15% of Americans, nearly 35 million adults, hold views about Jews that are ‘unquestionably anti-Semitic,’” a number that had previously been in decline (ADL survey, 2007). Twenty percent of those polled said Jews have too much power in the business world, twenty-seven percent stated Jews were responsible for the death of Christ, and 31 percent believed that Jews were more loyal to Israel than the United States (ADL survey).
Receiving much national attention recently in regards to hate spread on the internet is social networking site Facebook. The company has been under attack because of its allowance of Holocaust denial, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel groups. Dr. Andre Oboler founded “Zionism on the Web” after he realized that a Google search of the term yielded almost entirely anti-Semitic results. He also developed the term “Anti-Semitism 2.0,” which is defined as “the use of web applications…to spread a social acceptability of anti-Semitic attitudes and discourse” (Oboler, 2008). It is an “attempt to make racism acceptable and perhaps even ‘cool,’ while also providing explanations to make those accepting the racist attitudes dismiss the arguments of people trying to correct them” (Oboler). He charges that online anti-Semitism is “extremely dangerous. Within five years it may be too late to reverse the social trend. What starts online will not end online. I would rank this as the most serious threat to Jewish people after a nuclear Iran and the Durban II ‘anti-racism’ Conference” (Oboler).
Facebook terms of service “are very clearly written: ‘You will not post content that is hateful, threatening, pornographic, or that contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence” (Matyszczyk, 2009) and “You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious or discriminatory” (Facebook). Facebook’s defense for allowing groups such as “Holohoax” is that “Holocaust denial is not, in itself, hateful” (Matyszczyk). Obama put it most eloquently, saying, “To this day, there are those who insist the Holocaust never happened. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history” (“Obama,” 2009). Advocacy practice states that “a condition is defined as a problem only when we decide something should be done about it” (Hoefer, 2006, p. 54). This is a problem that must be addressed.
The internet is a widely used tool for communication and information across the globe. Here, the focus is specifically on Facebook. It is “the biggest social networking site in the world…it has more than a hundred million active users and is the fourth-most visited website on the net” (Gunkel, 2008). Social networking sites like Facebook are used by “anti-Semitic propagandists and terror supporters…as a dynamic tool for spreading their propaganda against Jews and Israel. What should be particular cause for concern is that they are targeting the teens and young adults that form the majority of members at social networking sites such as Facebook” (Gliksman, 2009). The ADL survey specifically states “The more educated a person is, the less likely he or she is to hold anti-Semitic views: 21% of those with a high school degree or less hold strong anti-Semitic views, compared to 10% of college graduates and 8% of those who hold post-graduate degrees” (ADL survey). Because of this the Facebook population is particularly vulnerable. Only 22% of those on Facebook identify themselves as college graduates (Riveong, 2007) and 55% are under the age of 26 (Smith, 2009).
Other vulnerable populations that likely exist in the Facebook community are those in rural areas or areas where there is a small or non-existent Jewish population. These individuals will not have any personal connection to the Jewish community or means of doing reality-testing in terms of the propaganda they read online. The ADL survey also identified higher occurrences of anti-Semitism in the Hispanic community, the “most significant and fastest growing segment of the population” (ADL survey). Fifteen percent of Hispanic people born within the United States harbor anti-Semitic beliefs, compared to 29% of those foreign-born. The internet is a popular social medium in the United States and needs to be used as a tool for education rather than spreading misinformation.
Causes and Sources
Hoefer states that “A search for the ultimate cause generally ends up in a dispute over values and religious or philosophic views” (Hoefer, 2006, p. 64). Here the religious elements are visible, and potentially involve a dispute over values. However, while extremely linked to religion the ultimate issue does not appear to be religious values, but anti-Semitism. While anti-Semitism may have initially stemmed from differences in opinion in religious doctrine there is a thousand year old history of using Jews as scapegoats for political or social gains. Foxman says, “A unique quality of anti-Semitism is the notion that, with the Jews, the reality is not what it seems – Jews may seem normal but are secretive, part of a global cabal, all-powerful, or poisonous” (Foxman, 2007). Throughout history examples include “the black plague, of Jews ‘poisoning the wells,’ and the blood libel – Jews killing Christian children for their blood” (Foxman). The consequences are the thinking that “Jews can be blamed at any time for problems in society when political leaders don’t want to face the difficult realities” (Foxman). This was certainly true in Nazi Germany. The impact is such that “these ideas are with us today, not as a history lesson but as a current event. There are 9/11 conspiracy theories about Jews, the big lie of Holocaust denial, and these have manifested themselves throughout the Arab world” (Foxman). Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad “has suggested that Jews control sources of information and create the so-called ‘fantasy’ of the Holocaust to win support for Israel” (Foxman). As the result of such arguments the automatic answer becomes “Jews are to blame – for war in Iraq, for terrorists attacking America, for the rise of extremism in the Middle East, for the failure of America to solve the problems, and for stifling open discussion of the issues” (Foxman). Reading the posts, blogs and comments of any of these groups it becomes clear that not only is the content anti-Semitic, but the very premise is to show that Jews are untrustworthy and “manipulating” history for sympathetic public opinion.
The proximate cause that Facebook seems to be using is that limiting what their members say is a violation of free speech. American civil liberties are an important consideration, and are worth protecting and defending. Yet, Facebook is a private company that has the right to dictate what is on its site. The true cause seems to be that Facebook does not deem this content hateful. However inadvertently, Facebook has become party to spreading hate and anti-Semitic content because it fails to deem it as “hateful, threatening… malicious, or discriminatory” (Facebook, 2009). As a result groups like Aryan Guard, Hamas, Hezbollah and Support Taliban are not removed. The misinformation that is spread on the internet and through sites such as Facebook breed further misinformation, and with it further intolerance.
The sources of such material vary, and it is clear that hateful content comes from the Arab world, Europe, and from the United States itself. Historically these sentiments have been passed on for thousands of years through stories like the blood libel and the responsibility for the death of Christ. While the strongest and loudest opposition against the Jewish community comes from Islamist extremists there is a bloody history of Judeo-Christian relations, including the Spanish Inquisition, forced expulsions, and the Crusades. Again, while this may have started as a doctrinal religious difference the extent has reverberations throughout history.
Past Advocacy Attempts
Currently in the United States Holocaust denial is not illegal, but it is illegal in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Israel, Slovakia and Switzerland (Cuban, 2009). On his site “The Cuban Revolution” lawyer Mark Cuban has posted an open letter to Facebook, stating, “The Holocaust Denial movement is nothing more than a pretext to allow the preaching of hatred against Jews and to recruit other like minded individuals to do the same. Allowing these groups to flourish on Facebook under the guise of ‘open discussion’ does nothing more than help spread their message of hate” (Cuban).
The JIDF organized a group called “United Against Holocaust Denial on Facebook.” Since its creation on May 14, 2009 the group has amassed over 67,000 members. In regards to anti-Semitic content the group states, “Facebook has either been too slow to remove such material after we brought the TOS violations to their attention, not proactive enough in general, or, in the case of Holocaust denial, Facebook is flat-out refusing to remove it, despite the fact that denying the Holocaust is hate speech” (United Against Holocaust Denial). They state their mission is to “focus on Holocaust denial content, with the hopes that it will eventually serve as yet another gateway for us to address the other issues on Facebook and the internet in general…as Holocaust denial represents clear hatred and serves no valid purpose within the Facebook community whatsoever” (UAHD).
Hate speech on the Internet has not been addressed by the United States Supreme Court, nor many state or federal courts. Such cases fall under court’s rulings of hate-speech cases. In Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969 it was ruled “speech does not create the classic ‘clear and present danger’ to citizens unless it is ‘directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action’” (Reich). The 1977 case National Socialist Party v. Skokie ruled “’albeit reluctantly’” that “speech itself, although hateful, could be avoided” (Reich). In Wisconsin v. Mitchell the 1993 Supreme Court ruling “solidified a speech/action distinction” (Reich). It has been argued “racial and ethnic epithets are types of speech that, like ‘fighting words’ (as articulated in Chaplinksky v. New Hampshire in 1942), seem to have “no redeeming value,” can incite violent retaliation, and thus should not enjoy First Amendment protection” and therefore may be regulated without any risk of right infringement (Reich).
The legal implications of these cases are important, but the fact remains that the content of Holocaust denial groups violates Facebook’s own terms of service which states that users will not “bully, intimidate, or harass any user…post content that is hateful, threatening…use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory…or encourage any violations of this statement” and reserves itself the right to “remove any content you post on Facebook if we believe it violates this Statement” (Facebook).
In 2001 eBay and Yahoo decided independently, after receiving feedback from its users and anti-hate groups, to ban the sale of Nazi paraphernalia and nostalgia on their site. These companies “made a clear and simple stand against the sale of Nazi memorabilia… Both companies decided they simply didn’t want to be associated with that kind of thing” (Matyszczyk, 2009). The ban included not only “items that bear symbols of the Nazis” and “music or films that promote hatred and racial supremacy” but also “Holocaust denial books” (eBay). Should Facebook decide to “make a stand for its own terms of service, it would not be an affront to free speech. It would be a statement about what kind of brand Facebook chooses to be” (Matyszczyk).
Key Contributing Factors
Undeniably anti-Semitism exists in the United States and around the world. The internet can be used as a tool for spreading propaganda and inciting hate. Members of the Jewish community may feel unsafe, unwelcome or targeted by such content on Facebook because Facebook has previously refused to remove such content Jews and others within minority populations may be reticent to use the social networking site or feel attacked or threatened. While Facebook was designed as a community for bringing people together in this instance it may be tearing them apart.
Facebook as an entity has claimed that why they do not personally subscribe to such ideologies that the company employs Jewish people, and that they can not “show preferential treatment to one offended group over others” (Arrington, 2009). The Jewish community is asking for malicious or discriminatory content to be removed that violates the terms of service. Perhaps it is because the company is “’run by a prominent Jew’” that there is fear of some sort of backlash if the site was to remove anti-Semitic content (Arrington, 2009).
The goal of this advocacy project is to rid Facebook of anti-Semitic content. As it is written now such material is in direct conflict with Facebook’s own terms of service. Such removal will not only make this online community safe for Jews and gentile’s alike and furthermore set a precedent that Holocaust denial is hateful material that will not be tolerated, but also that Facebook will stand up for abuses against minority populations that use their site.
Force Field Analysis
A Force Field Analysis was conducted as a means of assessing the prospects of change and understanding the forces that are driving and restraining the removal of anti-Semitic content from Facebook (see Appendix 1). Critical actors include Facebook administrators, the Supreme Court and the Facebook community. Facilitating actors include the press, the JIDF, the “United Against Holocaust Denial on Facebook” Group, bloggers, President Obama and Jewish watch-dog organizations.
Previous strengthening forces that support the removal of incendiary material include the media response to Facebook’s failure to follow its terms of service, President Obama’s speech stating Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism, the Jewish community’s publication of Facebook’s hypocrisy and the withdrawal of corporate advertising sponsorships because its advertising was being placed alongside “offensive content” (McEleny, 2009). Moving forward, strengthening forces include further organization of the Facebook community, further political involvement, specific revisions to Facebook terms of service and a calculated pull of advertising from Facebook.
Forces that limit movement include the legality of spreading hateful content on the internet and the legality of hate speech, anti-Semitism in mainstream society, evidenced by the ADL survey, and the fact that Facebook is a private website that is allowed to dictate its own terms of service. Because of this ultimately Facebook reserves the right to violate its own terms of service.
Using brainstorming, and the “super-optimizing” and “what can be done?” approaches a range of goal options were established that would signify success for this project (Hoefer, 2006, p. 67). These include having Holocaust denial and anti-Israel material marked as hateful or objectionable, have a “flag” feature for marking objectionable content, dedicating a specific area of the site to open public debate, “rating” areas and limiting admittance to them based on age, and editing Facebook terms of service.
In summation the “working forces,” those with moderate to high potency and amenability, include further political involvement from politicians or the court system, organization of the Facebook community against the spread of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic content. It was concluded that the pulling of corporate advertising from the site, which results in decreased profits and further marketability of the site to potential advertisers is a highly potent means of getting Facebook to follow through on its terms of service. If companies deem Facebook a hateful community and are unwilling to advertise there Facebook’s major source of income will be lost. Specific revisions could also be proposed to the Facebook administration. Perhaps the highest potency option would be to organize advertisers to remove their content from Facebook because of the advertising alongside hateful content.
Force Field Analysis
Facebook allows anti-Semitic Holocaust denial groups that violate its terms of service.
Ridding Facebook of Holocaust denial groups.
Range of Goal Options
Critical Actors: (Formal Authorities)
Facebook administrators, the Supreme Court, the Facebook community
Facilitating Actors: (May Facilitate Change)
The press, the JIDF, the “United Against Holocaust Denial on Facebook” Group, bloggers, President Obama and Jewish watch-dog organizations
Balance Sheet: (Individual, Group, Organizational)
|Driving Force: (predispose movement)||Potency||Amenability||Target Actors|
|1. Further organize Facebook community involvement.
2. Seek out further political involvement.
3. Propose specific revisions to Facebook terms of service.
4. Organize advertisers to remove their content from Facebook.
|Facebook and the online community
Jewish and non-Jewish politicians, watch-dog groups
Facebook and the online community
|Restraining Forces: (limit movement)||Potency||Amenability||Target Actors|
|1. Freedom of hate speech.
2. Anti-Semitism in mainstream society.
3. Private website which dictates its own rules.
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