Facebook has updated its hate speech policy to “prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust”.

Why is this surprising? This is a u-turn from Facebook’s earlier stance on Holocaust denial. In October 2018, Zuckerberg himself had defended the company leaving such content online because “there are things that different people get wrong” and that he didn’t believe that Holocaust deniers “are intentionally getting it wrong”. He had clarified that Facebook’s goal with fake news was “not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue”, but to stop fake news and misinformation from spreading. Essentially, he said that Facebook should not and would not intervene when it came to Holocaust denial content.

Holocaust deniers either completely deny or downplay the fact that Nazis systematically murdered 6 million Jews. Holocaust denial is closely associated with other forms of anti-Semitism such as theories that Jews control governments and the media.

Why now? The policy change was prompted by rising anti-Semitism globally and the “alarming” level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people, Facebook said. In Mark Zuckerberg’s own words, his thinking “has evolved” because he saw data proving an increase in anti-Semitic violence.

Other genocides will stay: However, posts disputing other genocides can remain online, such as the Armenian genocide (denied by the Turkish government), the Rwandan genocide, and the massacre of the Rohingya in Myanmar, in which Facebook was hauled up by the United Nations for playing a contributing role.

What now? When users now search for Holocaust terms, the platform will direct people to “authoritative sources” outside of Facebook to get accurate information.

Enforcement will take time: Facebook said enforcement of the policy “cannot happen overnight”, meaning that users may still see some posts that distort or deny the Holocaust. “There is a range of content that can violate these policies”, and the company will “take some time” to train its reviewers and systems.

Anti-Semite conspiracy theories were banned in August: In a first, Facebook and Instagram had in August banned anti-Semitic conspiracy theories depicting Jews as controlling the world and major institutions, after an advertising boycott by over a thousand companies. Facebook said it has been removing such posts “following a year of consultation with external experts”.

Also banned QAnon: The company had also banned all accounts linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory movement from Facebook and Instagram. Until August, it only removed groups and accounts sharing and promoting QAnon material. QAnon is a complex conspiracy theory that declares that US President Donald Trump is waging a war against elite, liberal, Satan-worshipping paedophiles.

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