Should Facebook Remove Holocaust Denial Groups?

By: Danny Brown - July 28, 2011

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.

Against Holocaust Denial Laws

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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Danny Brown

About the Author

Danny BrownDanny Brown is the social sensei at Bonsai Interactive, a small and mighty team of technology, media and marketing nerds rocking the social web. His blog is featured in the AdAge Power 150 list as well as Canada’s Top 50 Marketing Blogs, and won the Hive Award for Best Social Media Blog at the 2010 South by South West festival. You can find Danny on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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  • Tom Aikins

    Free speech is free speech. Do you think that anyone with half a brain is really going to believe the garbage that these nuts put up? Censoring content is a slippery slope. I agree with you on the topics that you mentioned above that should be disallowed regardless of my first sentence because there does have to be a line somewhere. This just doesn’t seem important enough to warrant drawing that line.

  • Renaldo

    Why blame Hitler for the ‘final solution’? Most all of Europe was complicit in the deaths of Jews and many others during and after World War II. The French, for instance, were more than happy to turn over the Jews. And the Communists and their sympathizers — who murdered more than 20 million Orthodox Christians during and after WWII are still, to this day, doing their best to destroy Isreal.

    Hitler was the executive in charge, but he was simply organizing an European-wide effort to get rid of folks who were politically inconvenient.

    Europeans are more than happy to lay blame at the feet of “Hitler” and “Nazis”, because it lets the rest of them off the hook. They were all guilty.

    • Bonnie Burns

      Even sadder is my own country..America turned away Jews who were trying to escape, or immigrate. They returned an entire ship full of Jews back to Germany where many passengers were sent directly to the camps. It was the great Hitler experiment that stated he could fill a ship with Jews and no country would take them. He was sadly correct.

      But of course this article was based on freedom of speech, and discussion of the Holocaust can go forever (I am a big history expert on the subject with a masters degree in its study) and take way the purpose of the original intent for discussion.

  • Bonnie Burns

    Free speech is important. But there should be a fine line attached as well. Just as you stated above, certain subjects should not be allowed to fester publicly. Those who do not believe in the Holocaust are ignorant…but they tend not to just disbelieve, but attach their hate to their beliefs and that is dangerous. And they don’t just leave it in their own ‘circle’ but seek out Jewish related sites such as holocaust camps, Volunteer for survivors, individuals as well.

    As a Jew, I have received threatening and abusive comments on Twitter and Facebook….and just because they saw I wear a Jewish star in my profile picture or because I ‘liked’ a Jewish related site and so on. I’ve seen hate written on Holocaust Remembrance Facebook sites which thank goodness are closely monitored and are taken down within hours. Sure, I can block these fools…but they seeked me out, its not like I went looking for them and added comments etc. Free speech is ok…but when you turn that to an individual or group to spew hatred, it should be blocked, removed, vanished.

  • Azrian

    If you try to shut these people up, they claim that the illuminati are trying to suppress the truth. Ignorant and/or hateful nonsense shouldn’t be censored, it should be debunked, exposed, and ridiculed.

  • Palm Beach Photographer

    Where is the crying over the murder of 65 million Christians under communist Joseph Stalin? He made Hitler look like a kid playing in a sand box. Truth is Christian blood is worthless to the media…
    Why is that? Find out and you shall know something….very interesting.