Why did it Take Mark Zuckerberg a Decade to Realize Holocaust Denial is bad?
A terrible business model, shareholder pressure, and a short supply of the truth.
On October 12th, 2020, Mark Zuckerberg let the world know that it was updating its hate speech policy.
As the third emoji suggests, a lot of people found this change laughably — for most, Holocaust denial is a no-brainer.
In fact, the thing that it suggests Zuckerberg “struggled with” is not the “tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust”. It seems to suggest a tension between what his shareholders might react to and what they would find acceptable.
Nowhere in this update is Zuckerberg clearly stating all genocides. Zuckerberg is strictly talking about the Holocaust. The Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Holocaust took place between 1914 and 1923, which even Raphael Lemkin would later claim was the impetus for the structure of the Third Reich and the Holocaust.
Why is data necessary to show that genocide/Holocaust denial is bad?
This is a sober question. What’s most sobering is the realization that Zuckerberg directly gains from anti-semitic virality via the medium of advertising revenue on his platform.
Zuckerberg uses the words “right balance”. I think anybody with a conscience would understand that there is no middle ground with anti-semitism. It doesn’t take data to understand that displaying anti-semitism in an instantaneous internet culture could easily turn ugly.
Why is it just the Holocaust?
Where are all the other massacres? How does limiting hate speech at only the Holocaust provide a wider hate speech policy?
Today, Armenia stands alone, defending their land against Azerbaijan and Turkey. The world never recognized the Armenian Genocide a hundred years ago. Today, the extension of that extermination begins anew.
We’re speaking simply, at least I am. I’m confused. Mostly, I’m perplexed. The choice of words. The reference to a personal struggle on Mark’s end.
The real struggle isn’t in the hands of what data or what advertising you can make money on. The real struggle is attempting to understand that those events did happen, and millions of people did die at the hands of a monster.
Woe is you for deciding that those people deserve to be respected. Woe is you for trying to steer the world of mega-speed information into a place of truth, where the revenue in the digital advertising world probably won’t be as substantial.
Was rising anti-semitism the problem, or were you ever concerned?
I wouldn’t ask if you didn’t directly state it. I mean, Mark wrote that post, and everybody can agree that these are his own words.
If anti-semitism existed on the internet, but it wasn’t rising, would he be okay with that? It opens the floor on that conversation because he has injected it. It’s a problem because it is “rising”. But, in fact, Holocaust denial is wrong no matter what. In fact, we can all agree on that.
By extension, anti-semitism is wrong, no matter what. Yet, Zuckerberg’s words are anything but an extension or a widening of hate speech policy. It is a small tweak to the advertising engine that prints money. It is a middle ground because it has to be. And, in fact, it highlights an incredibly important crisis in the world of self-regulation on social medial platforms.
“The only shop in town”
This was the phrase commonly heard throughout the testimony of all the technology giants on July 29, 2020.
They weren’t discussing that they were the only shops to do business with. It was discussing the nature of the business and how they transact on it.
Here is what Congressman Cicilline had to say on that day:
“Mr. Zuckerberg, if the [content is not helpful] for your platform, then how do you explain on Monday, the second most popular video, was a Breitbart video claiming that you don’t need a mask and hydroxychloroquine is a cure for COVID. In the first five hours of being posted on Facebook, it racked up 20 million views and a hundred thousand comments before Facebook acted to remove it.”
The fact of the matter is that it didn’t take a decade for Zuckerberg to understand that Holocaust denial is a bad thing that shouldn’t be allowed on the platform. Facebook needs virality. It is the lifeblood of its platform. Zuckerberg and the shareholders rely on it for the revenue numbers each quarter.
And the system isn’t just designed for virality. It is entirely self-regulated. In no capacity do lawmakers actually make laws to indicate what is and isn’t allowed on these platforms.
The nail that’s missing in this gigantic problem is that Zuckerberg alone has the power to decide what is and isn’t ethical. In a world where independent regulation and fact-checking are the mechanisms that keep business fair and equitable, Zuckerberg has inverted the message to declare that he’s actually progressive and forward-thinking.
Behind all the artificial intelligence, clever programming, and machine learning is a system designed to keep your eyes glued on the screen. And to do that, Zuckerberg has always understood that virality was the only answer — no matter how ugly that virality was rendered.
This has been the only answer: To have lawmakers take away illegal building blocks on these platforms. Or, at minimum, spell out clearly how those building blocks may not be used. Because nobody in the world is going to believe Zuckerberg has been struggling with this issue, ever.