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Berlin critcizes Facebook CEO about Holocaust comments

July 19, 2018

Mark Zuckerberg has backtracked on comments he made about allowing Holocaust deniers to post their beliefs on his social media platform. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas condemned Zuckerberg's comments.

Mark Zuckerberg
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/J. Sanchez

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has criticized Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for saying that while he finds Holocaust deniers abhorrent, they should still be allowed to post their beliefs on Facebook.

Maas said in a tweet that "Nobody should defend anyone who denies the Holocaust. On the contrary, worldwide, everything must be done to protect Jewish life."

In Berlin, the Justice Ministry also chimed in and said that Zuckerberg caused outrage by saying his platform should not delete such comments.

"There must be no place for anti-Semitism. This includes verbal and physical attacks on Jews as well as the denial of Holocaust," said Justice Minister Katarina Barley on Thursday.

"The latter is also punishable by us and will be strictly prosecuted," Barley said.

Heiko Maas in Yad Vashem
Heiko Maas recently visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial siteImage: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Yefimovich

Zuckerberg made the comments during a recent interview with tech website Recode. He said that while Facebook was dedicated to stopping the spread of fake news, certain beliefs that were sincerely held would not be taken down.

The controversy began when Zuckerberg gave an unprompted example of Holocaust deniers to Recode host Kara Swisher to make a point about allowing hoaxes to be published on the site.

Zuckerberg was forced to backtrack after the remarks caused a backlash on social media. He said that if any post advocated violence or hate against a group, it would be removed.

Online Holocaust deniers a problem

There are laws in Germany that impose fines of up to 50 million euros ($58 million) on social media sites that fail to remove hateful messages promptly. Officials made it clear that Holocaust denial was a punishable crime and it was Maas who, in his previous job as justice minister, introduced the Facebook law.

Earlier this month, a study from the Technical University in Berlin showed that online anti-Semitism has become a "worrying phenomenon" in Germany. The study analyzed more than 300,000 entries from Facebook and other online forums.

The study demonstrated that the proportion of anti-Semitic content in German social media rose from 7.5 percent in 2007 to more than 30 percent in 2017.

The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said the study empirically proved that online anti-Semitism was increasing and becoming more aggressive.

Josef Schuster in a file photo at Augsburg Synagoge
Central Council of Jews in Germany head Josef Schuster in a file photoImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Puchner

Zuckerberg later sent an email to Recode to clarify his comments, saying that if something is spreading and rated as false by the site's fact checkers, "it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed." And added, "…of course if a post crossed (the) line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group, it would be removed." 

The episode was an unwelcome distraction for Facebook after it held a briefing on the company's new policy to remove bogus posts likely to spark violence.

The new strategy being rolled out across the global social network was tested in Sri Lanka, which was recently rocked by inter-religious violence over false information posted on the platform.

A Facebook spokesman announced that the platform may remove inaccurate or misleading content, such as doctored photos, created or shared to stir up or ignite volatile situations in the real world.

Hate speech and threats deemed credible are violations of Facebook rules and are removed.

av/ng (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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