Facebook wants you to know that it cares, deeply, about fake news.
Ever since it emerged that Russian hackers and Cambridge Analytica exploited the social media giant during the 2016 presidential election to push divisive lies, Facebook has done its utmost to give readers the impression that it has the issue under control. It’s started education campaigns, published ads in newspapers and on billboards, and updated its moderation guidelines.
But despite these changes, there is still an immense reluctance on the part of Facebook to decide what is offensive or misleading. The latest example was seen on Tuesday, in an interview between Mark Zuckerberg and Recode’s Editor-at-Large, Kara Swisher, during which Zuckerberg described what he thought his company’s role was.
“I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened. I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong,” Zuckerberg said. “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong. It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent.”
“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,” Zuckerberg continued. “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.'”
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) July 18, 2018
Zuckerberg was defending his company’s decision to allow Infowars, the notorious conspiracy-peddling site, to remain on Facebook — despite acknowledging the site traffics in conspiracies and fake news.
Infowars is currently at the center of several lawsuits from parents of Sandy Hook victims and a witness to the Charlottesville attack. In both cases, they accuse Jones of inspiring death threats and harassment against them due to various conspiracy theories about the attacks he’s propagated over the years. And in March, Infowars was almost banned from YouTube for spreading “crisis actor” conspiracy theories, following a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Zuckerberg’s Holocaust remarks also demonstrate a remarkable naivety about Holocaust denialism on the internet. It is not simply a case of one party “asking questions” and being misinformed. Instead, Anti-Semitism during the Trump administration has served as one of the many conduits of the far-right, where individuals such as Andrew Anglin and Richard Spencer, as well as many of the far-right’s favorite philosophers, regularly traffic in Holocaust denialism.
Zuckerberg’s comments are the latest example of Big Tech’s false equivalency problem. In March for instance, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey personally apologized to right-wing activist Candance Owens after she was labeled “far-right” in a Twitter Moment — all while ignoring criticisms over Twitter’s policy of allowing far-right accounts to remain on the platform. Facebook meanwhile has pledged political neutrality, but has also donated to far-right lawmakers like Republican Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA) over the years and allowed its recent “bias study” to be run by right-wing conservative lobbyists.