Thursday, July 19, 2018

Stupid Things About Holocaust Denial On Facebook

So Mark Zuckerberg stepped in it, this time seeming to insist that Holocaust denial not be removed from Facebook despite how personally detestable it is to him. For Zuckerberg, what matters is intent to denigrate rather than merely spreading misinformation. However, Holocaust denial is part of a long-term strategy to recruit people to national socialism.

Holocaust denial is perhaps a misnomer. It is relatively rare for a person to entirely believe that the Holocaust didn't happen. Rather the purview of Holocaust denial is to call into question the general scale, scope, and magnitude of the Holocaust. Thus it may perhaps be more appropriate to talk of "Holocaust revision."

But even this is an inapt description. For with "Holocaust revision" (a term those who engage in this prefer) we are doing relatively little describing. The enterprise of researching the Holocaust necessarily entails revising existing history, otherwise the exercise would be futile. Declaring that 6 million Jews were not exterminated and that the number is closer to 3 million is as much a revision as the unearthing of records of Nazi brothels. Ultimately, what makes Holocaust denial different is that it is simply fabricated.

To understand the scope of Holocaust denial, the Jewish Virtual Library has prepared a 66 item explainer debunking common Holocaust denial talking points. A quick glance at the first item demonstrates the depth of knowledge and resources necessary to parse the rather simple lies told by Holocaust denialists.

Although the immediate aim of Holocaust denial is to minimize the perceived magnitude of the Holocaust, it serves a metapolitical purpose of acting as a recruitment tool for Nazis. For Nazis, the Holocaust represents the ultimate political battle ground. Their aim isn't to deny the Holocaust per se so much as diminish its importance in consideration of political tendency.

The point of Holocaust denial is to turn the scholarly pursuit of history -- particularly that history which tarnishes the reputation of national socialism -- into aesthetic play. In Anti-Semite and Jew, Jean Paul Sartre attributes this diminution of politics to the Enlightenment analytic approach to reason. Rather than viewing such things as Holocaust denial (Sartre doesn't deal with this subject directly) as part of a Nazi recruitment package, Zuckerberg thinks himself well within his right to render Holocaust denial as a matter of opinion. Or as Sartre put it,

Thus anti-Semitic opinion appears to us to be a molecule that can enter into combination with other molecules of any origin whatsoever without undergoing any alteration.

Compare that to Zuckerberg's remarks:

It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. 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.”

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.” But that doesn’t mean that we have a responsibility to make it widely distributed in News Feed. I think we, actually, to the contrary-

[Interviewer:] So you move them down? Versus, in Myanmar, where you remove it?


That is, Zuckerberg is willing to remove fake news content stoking inter-ethnic violence in Myanmar, but not Holocaust denial. Zuckerberg has since clarified that his intent (printed here in full):

I enjoyed our conversation yesterday, but there’s one thing I want to clear up. I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.

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. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed. And of course if a post crossed line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group, it would be removed. These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.

I look forward to catching up again soon.


This is ultimately the failure of having a one-size-fits-all policy for "content." Fascist recruitment networks operate in specific ways that require targeted measures to fight them. Part of that includes interrupting fascist echo chambers by preventing them from posting their primary exponents.