Facebook Exec Responds To Holocaust Denial Critics

zuckerbergFacebook has taken a major step towards transparency and end-user education on why and how they reach decisions regarding the removal or  non-removal of user-generated content many perceive as TOS prohibited hate speech.

I received an email from Elliot Schrage in response to previous discussions, email exchanges and my post entitled, “Simon Wiesenthal Releases Report On Online Hate Proliferation”.

Mr. Schrage is the Facebook Facebook VP Global Communications, Marketing and Public Policy.  Per Mr. Schrage’s request the statement is being released unedited with the exception of redaction of non-corporate/personal  email addresses to protect privacy.

Monday, June 22, 2009 10:01 PM
“Elliot Schrage” <redacted>
“Brian Cuban” <brian.cuban@dallasmavs.com>


If you want transparency, then I will be happy to respond, so long as you agree that if you quote any part of my message below you will reprint the entire email as part of the same post.

I just read your blog post ( http://briancuban.com/wiesenthal-center-releases-report-on-online-hate-proliferation/ ) and confess I feel you have somewhat distorted my comments.  You imply that my statement “I feel like I am representing the internet” suggested I (or Facebook) want or seek this role.  My point was exactly the opposite.  I stated that I felt by my participation at the event I (and Facebook) were being asked to defend the hateful content that exists on the internet.  I made clear that I completely reject any effort to put Facebook in that role —  indeed, I believe that Facebook is a much safer, less hateful environment than the internet as a whole.  I highlighted that NONE of the egregious websites or games spewing hate or promoting violence targeting Jews or other groups presented by Rabbi Cooper during his presentation would be permitted on Facebook, while they continue to be present on the internet and available for discovery through search and other means.  I indicated that I believe the debate over holocaust denial on Facebook could be viewed as a distraction from the much bigger problem of truly targeted hate directly targeting Jews and other groups that exist throughout the web — a problem that Facebook has addressed responsibly, while other web sites and service providers (as you and Rabbi Cooper acknowledged) have not.

As I indicated during the session, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share  and make the world more open and connected.  Our strong bias is in favor of sharing and connection and, as you and Rabbi Cooper agreed, the extent of even allegedly hateful content on Facebook is a truly tiny fraction of the millions of groups and billions of communications that take place using our service.  The sites that you and I disagree about have members that total in the low hundreds, compared to the more than 200 million people around the world that use Facebook every month.  Moreover, consistent with our mission, we believe that the best way to fight hate is to expose it and respond to it by promoting greater sharing and connection — again, as I made clear during my presentation, many of the sites that you and others object to include members and comments expressly rejecting the groups’ efforts to deny the holocaust.

As I mentioned in my presentation, we have teams of professionals that examine allegations of inappropriate content against many criteria, not only whether it is directly hateful.  The more broad criteria are listed in the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.  Our team then develops specific policies in consultation with other groups both inside and outside the company to respond to the types of reported content we see most often.

For content alleged to be hateful, the team evaluates whether the content by its own words directly degrades a person or group of people based on their membership in a group belonging to certain protected categories, including but not limited to religious affiliation.

I did not suggest that these criteria involve no subjectivity, only that they involve LESS subjectivity than the approach you seek to have us adopt.  Nor did I suggest that we have developed some mechanism to achieve “binary certainty;” rather, I indicated that, consistent with our mission,  we strive to achieve greater objectivity and limit the subjectivity of our assessments.  We recognize that any review of content always involves judgment and subjectivity; again, the approach you would have us adopt would push us to make ever greater subjective assessments and invite ever greater disagreements and controversy.

As for advertising, we block ads from appearing beside any of the holocaust denial sites that we become aware of.  We also seek to remove advertising against  search results for pages or groups that seek to deny the holocaust.   Of course, depending on the language these sites use we may not capture them all proactively, in which case we remove them when we are notified.

Brian, I hope this addresses your questions and look forward to hosting your visit to Facebook next month.


Elliot Schrage
Vice President, Communications and Public Policy

While I have not digested and analysis all implications of Facebook’s  stated position, Mr. Schrage did make one statement that I immediately take issue with.  He was reiterating a position taken by  Facebook head of P.R. Barry Schnitt.  He stated:

“Moreover, consistent with our mission, we believe that the best way to fight hate is to expose it and respond to it by promoting greater sharing and connection”

I agree with Mr. Schrage that it is a good thing to bring hate into the open.  It makes it pretty tough to fight if you don’t.  Once it’s in the open, at what point however do you say this is just a bad thing in your neighborhood and take a stand?  If we don’t,  do we just allow a “perpetual discussion” until the numbers reach critical mass and it takes an all-out war to deal with?  It seems to be that once you agree that something is bad, the last thing you want to do it help it grow by promoting greater sharing and connection” Is that not how a virus is spread?   Is a  pandemic of “hatred”  any less dangerous than the bird flu?

I agree  with Mr. Schrage that Holocaust Denial is just a small cog in the ever-turning wheel of online hate.  Does that mean that I believe it deserves no less attention?  I do not.  The time to fight hatred regardless of the target is when it is “fight-able” not when it has already reached critical mass. The Holocaust itself is a testament to the folly of those who wait.  11 million dead are not alone.  History has proven this true over and over again.

What is the solution?  I honestly don’t know.  It obviously has to be one that incorporates Facebook’s core beliefs in these matters.  I am open to suggestions.  There are many smart committed, individuals and groups such as The Simon Wiesenthal Center and The Anti-Defamation League in constant discussions with Facebook on these issues.   I suspect that whatever solution ultimately presents itself, it will be an evolving one.

I am looking forward to getting grilled on my core beliefs when I visit Facebook.   I wonder if I will be the only Republican in the room….


12 Responses

  1. I also need time, about a year, to digest the rhetoric or at least attempt to comprehend how a collective of graduates from the best universities in the word come to these flaw conclusions. It appears that FB acts randomly as to select what is semantically hate and cathegorize it as mere discourse while failing to address that the titles of the HD groups is simply hateful. As per example, Jimmy DeGrace, the creator of the Holocaust Denial group Holohaux, continues to direct "phishing" from his Facebook profile page and to Facebook users, while FB ignores his actions and chose to protect his "discourse". Also, on his profile page, Jimmy states his hate in a written and graphic way, but I assume that since French is the language of expression, that poses a challenge to FB. Also, Jimmy, is the only administrator behind the HD group, Holohaux and did not use a picture on the group's profile, except that at the eve of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum attack, Jimmy chose to post a profile picture to mock beforehand the museum.

    The other group in question, “Holocaust: A series of Lies”http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=80565100143 is using an image that is the property of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum therefore a Copyright infringement. Here is the disclaimer
    http://www.ushmm.org/priv_acc/disclaimer but Facebook has chosen to ignore these facts while they coincide with a recent attach to the USHMM.

    Regardless, it is insignificant and Facebook wants to stand as the leading social media network where all could come and freely spill words and have Facebook interpret the semantics as mere discourse. FB has set the standards and policies of public discourse in social media network while concurrently taken other individual actions that state otherwise. Facebook also has failed to acknowledge that it comes to the Holocaust, the precedent was already set by Yahoo and Ebay

  2. It's not a matter of volume (followers), Mr. Schrage; ONE is too many. While I can understand your perspective of "exposing" the hate, by allowing it to be displayed, I disagree. By allowing its presence on your site, you're empowering it–giving it exposure and the ability to communicate the message and gather not only criticism, but also support.

    We have a duty as human beings to extinguish hate anywhere, whether we're VP's of a major social networking site or simply the cohabitants of a hateful, loudmouth neighbor. I urge you to reconsider and develop a zero tolerance policy. Freedom of speech, although often used as a shield, has nothing to do with hate.

  3. Schrage said:

    //The sites that you and I disagree about have members that total in the low hundreds,//

    That is false. In the screencaps we provided it is evident that the groups in question contain a total of thousands of members. Furthermore, the issue of Holocaust denial exists in groups with membership of 10's of thousands of members as well.

    It's sad when Facebook execs don't take the time to fully understand the scope of the issue.

    He also claims that Facebook has responsibly addressed the issues beyond Holocaust denial.

    This is also false. Our research indicates that Facebook rarely takes either proactive or reactive action against problematic content.

    He hardly expresses anything new, either. He basically says that Facebook is still subjective, even if it claims to address these problems objectively. It's a bunch of double speak and abdication of responsibility typical of Facebook.

    1. Have you ever seen the Tide commercial where the guy is in a job interview with a spot on his tie? The interviewer is so distracted by the spot that all he hears is babble when the guy speaks.

      IMHO, even if you are correct in every one of your assertion your groups heavy handed, repetitive ranting on these subjects has caused your message to be completely lost. All people see now is the spot on the tie. Maybe its time to move in a different direction? That is just my opinion. I speak for no one else.-Brian

      1. It wasn't lost upon you, Facebook, TechCrunch, or the media – all who learned about these issues, because of our effort. Nor is it lost among the hundreds of new people who learn about us, daily.

        1. I stand corrected. You are absolutely right. That fact for sure is NOT lost on Facebook, Mike Arrington, me, and so many others. It is not lost because you tell us, and you tell us, and you tell us, and you tell us, and you tell us, and you tell us.. and you tell us….

          1. You do your thing your way, we'll do our thing, our way.

            Sometimes it takes a hammer.

            You mention other organizations who might go about things another way, but when we wrote to them about these issues in the Web 2.0 environment many years ago, they did absolutely.

            The JIDF method is to rock the boat, to be like a hammer and to continue hitting upon the point at hand. As we've said over and over and over, Holocaust denial on Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many problems online. Facebook has just as much of a morally ambivalent stance toward Islamic terrorist content and blatant Jew hatred as they do on Holocaust denial. There's also thousands of problems on YouTube and all over the place.

            Redundancy is often needed when it comes to teaching, especially when so many new people are just learning about our effort each day.

  4. Brian, Globally, we are losing it as a society as a whole. This massive audience of hatred of many ethnic and religious backgrounds, greed, corruption, lack of caring for others, etc. Just this past Sunday I read an interesting Pittsburgh Post Gazette online observation of an interview with former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Jim Tracy. His reference was in team building, but his observation could apply universally. He stated you need people of unselfish nature to get to where you want to go." Society needs to get back on track ! People need to be team players as life is just a short journey.

  5. All Face Book needs to do is announce if any content that is flagged for removal by more than "n" number of users will be removed immediately! Rule of Law on the Internet! We should all follow it!

  6. I am going to apply facebooks’ reasoning to my whole life!

    1. But officer, I only speed on this street once a week!
    2. Why should I recycle? My neighbors do it!
    3. I’m not spaying my cat, she’ll never get out!

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all NOT do what is right just because it is only a small fraction of the big picture (or so we think!)

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