Facebook says it is updating its hate speech policy to ban content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.
The decision comes two years after its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said in an interview with the tech website Recode said that while he found Holocaust denial deeply offensive, he did not believe Facebook should delete such content.
“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimising or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” said Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, in a Facebook post on Monday.
“My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in antisemitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech,” he said.
The social media company said that, starting later this year, it would also direct people searching for terms associated with the Holocaust or its denial to credible information away from the platform.
The World Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee praised the move. “For several years, the World Jewish Congress has advocated for Facebook to remove Holocaust denial content from its platform,” the group said.
Civil rights groups organised a widespread Facebook advertising boycott earlier this year to try to pressure social media companies to act against hate speech on their platforms.
“This has been years in the making. Having personally engaged with @Facebook on the issue, I can attest the ban on Holocaust Denial is a big deal,” tweeted Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the boycott’s organisers. “Glad it finally happened,” he added.
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany has also pushed for Facebook to ban Holocaust denial content and has called for Zuckerberg to meet survivors through its #NoDenyingIt social media campaign.
In August, Facebook banned certain antisemitic conspiracy theories and stereotypes.
In a blogpost, the company cited a recent survey that found almost a quarter of adults in the US aged 18-39 said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, that it had been exaggerated or they were not sure.
The company said enforcement of its new policies would not “happen overnight”.
“There is a range of content that can violate these policies, and it will take some time to train our reviewers and systems on enforcement,” it said.
In recent years, Facebook has funded research into the far right from organisations such as the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right. In a report in May this year, the UK-based Centre reported that Facebook had become a “key arena” for the mainstreaming of extremist ideas, particularly in the way far-right ideologues had successfully adopted euphemistic terms such as “zionists” or “globalists” to “make radical-right ideas more palatable to a wider public”.
Additional reporting by Alex Hern