The Tech Herald

Facebook hate group ban opens questions of free speech and consistency

by Rich Bowden - May 12 2009, 08:19

Image: Facebook.

Social networking site Facebook has apparently bowed to public pressure and removed a number of its members groups that allegedly deny the existence of the Jewish Holocaust during World War II.

The move has seen Facebook members run straight into two linked yet opposing controversies; the right of account holders to enjoy free speech, and why all Holocaust-denying groups weren't removed.

Facebook said Monday that two groups known as 'Based on the facts … There was no Holocaust' and 'Holocaust is a Holohoax,' were removed because their respective members promoted race hate. Links to the groups are now being redirected to Facebook's main page.

However, three other Holocaust-denying groups remain intact on the service.

"We are monitoring these groups and if the discussion among members degrades to the point of promoting hate or violence, despite whatever disclaimer the group description provides, we will take them down," Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said in an e-mail reported by PCMag.

"This has happened in the past, especially when controversial groups are publicized," said Schnitt.

The issue recently came to a head when attorney Brian Cuban, brother of technology entrepreneur Mark Cuban, challenged Facebook to remove the groups, saying that Holocaust denial was a crime in many of the countries accessed by Facebook users.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Facebook has said it supports free speech but will not condone hate speech. Holocaust denial, it appears to claim, does not automatically fall into the category of hate speech, thereby justifying the continued existence of the remaining trio of Holocaust-denying groups.

However, Cuban criticised Facebook's half-hearted approach to the matter, saying: "They have not addressed the issue. I find Barry Schnitt disturbingly dismissive and flippant about these issues."

Indeed, Facebook seems to have trod the fine line between free speech and the definition of hate groups.

In an earlier interview with CNET's Chris Matyszczyk, Facebook's Schnitt said: “...of course, we abhor Nazi ideals and find Holocaust denial repulsive and ignorant."

Yet, as if to balance this statement, he continued: "...we believe people have a right to discuss these ideas and we want Facebook to be a place where ideas, even controversial ideas, can be discussed. Of course, we have some limits."

Cuban has openly criticised Facebook's stance. In his blog, he said: "By claiming open discussion as the rationale for allowing these groups to exist, Facebook is playing games with semantics... Facebook is taking form over substance to protect their imaginary subjective corporate line in the sand they have drawn."

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