An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg: Don't give Holocaust deniers a pass
August 3, 2018
Holocaust denial isn’t just getting “a few things wrong.” It’s a pernicious form of anti-Semitism that serves no other purpose than to attack Jews.
Dear Mark Zuckerberg,
I’m one of your many fans. Like over two billion people around the planet, I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, hear new ideas, and digest news. Your decisions about social media affect my life every day.
Unbelievably, now those decisions include giving Holocaust denial free reign.
On July 18, 2018, you gave an interview to Kara Swisher of the tech site Recode in which you struggled to explain how you, as CEO of Facebook, are dealing with offensive material. Some posts are dangerous, you explained, and would be removed. You said that other material might be false but should stay up, and you offered Holocaust denial as your example.
After people around the world reacted with horror, you doubled down on your position: “If it’s going to result in real harm, real physical harm, or if you’re attacking individuals, then that content shouldn’t be on the platform,” you maintained. But posts denying the Holocaust don’t fit those criteria: “Everyone gets things wrong” is how you put it. While you called Holocaust denial “deeply offensive,” you insisted on Facebook users right to engage in it publicly, with no censure from your company.
Mark, Holocaust denial isn’t just getting “a few things wrong.” The hate-mongers on Facebook and elsewhere who promote the false narrative that the Holocaust never happened didn’t just make an honest mistake or stumble across incorrect information. They are promoting a dangerous lie that seeks to slander Jews and to incite hatred against us.
My grandparents fled Vienna in 1939. All of their family and friends who stayed behind were killed. I just can’t believe that in my lifetime they are being called liars and our murdered relatives are being deliberately erased from history.
“Holocaust denial is not simply a gross distortion of the facts,” the Anti-Defamation League stated this week in response to your defense of deniers. Holocaust denial “is also a pernicious form of anti-Semitic hate speech that serves no other purpose than to attack Jews.”
There are many forms of Holocaust denial and all are dangerous and reprehensible. Some deniers falsely claim that Jews somehow conspired in their own murders, or engaged in a nefarious conspiracy to convince the world the Holocaust took place. Some falsely insist that Jews did this to extract reparations from Germany, or to hoodwink the global community into allowing the creation of the State of Israel. These theories have certain common themes: they paint Jews as uniquely evil and masterful, manipulating world opinion for their own gains. They tap into deep-rooted anti-Semitic tropes of Jews as malevolent and preternaturally powerful. These are not merely innocent mistakes; they train people to mistrust and hate Jews.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) estimates that about 10 neo-Nazi hate groups are currently peddling various forms of Holocaust denial conspiracy theories in the United States today and several of them have a presence on Facebook. By not outlawing their hate, Mark, you are elevating them, lending them prestige and a platform to spread their bile. By protecting Holocaust denial, you are giving these anti-Semites the respectability they’ve long craved.
Your terrible decision couldn’t have come at a worse time. Just a few weeks ago, a study found that two thirds of American millennials said they haven’t heard of the Holocaust or aren’t certain what it was.
In other countries, those numbers are far higher. A 2014 global survey by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found that only 54 percent of people worldwide have heard of the Holocaust. Shockingly, nearly a third - 32 percent - of people who have heard of the Holocaust don’t believe what they’ve been told. They believe it has either been greatly exaggerated or is an outright lie. In Asia, fewer than a quarter of people (23 percent) have both heard of the Holocaust and believe what they learned. That number dips to 12 percent of people in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the Arab world, just 8 percent of respondents have both heard of the Holocaust and believe what they heard.
Mark, I have a photo on my bookshelf of my grandfather. He sits at a cafe with his cousin, sister, father and other relatives. I posted it on Facebook on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. They all gaze at the camera with smiles; there was no way they could have known that within a year my grandfather would have caught one of the last peacetime boats out of Europe and that everyone else in that photo was sent to Auschwitz.
My son carries the name Aharon after my great-grandfather, a genial man who was murdered at Auschwitz and whose kind gaze looks at me from his photo. Do you want to allow bigots and anti-Semites to deny his death? To somehow pretend that I’ve made up his very existence?
Mark, denying the Holocaust isn’t simply “getting facts wrong”; it is deliberately twisting history and painting one group of people—the Jews—as evil. It leads people to view Jews as liars, undeserving of trust about the Holocaust or anything else.
Since the Holocaust, many Jews have made “Never Again” a motto, promising never to allow the hatred and violence of the Holocaust to reoccur. To ensure this, we need allies like you to stand up and repudiate Holocaust denial whenever it occurs.
We have an obligation to counter those who would erase and deny our history, which is your history as well, Mark. We must not be silent. We are engaged in a battle for truth and memory, a battle to make sure the Holocaust and its lessons are never forgotten. Mark, now is the time to stand up for your people.
Yvette Alt Miller
Yvette Alt Miller earned her B.A. at Harvard University. She completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Jewish Studies at Oxford University, and has a Ph.D. In International Relations from the London School of Economics.