In an unusually revealing moment for Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg told Recode’s Kara Swisher on Wednesday that he didn’t support taking down content about Holocaust denial on Facebook. Zuckerberg is Jewish, and he finds such denials “deeply offensive,” he said. But Holocaust deniers were not “intentionally getting it wrong.”
When Swisher followed up that “in the case of Holocaust deniers, they might be,” Zuckerberg retreated to a stance he’s never quite made explicit before. “It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent,” he said.
In place of “understanding” the intent, this statement makes clear that Facebook takes a default stance of assuming users act in good faith—or without intention, at least. Zuckerberg and Facebook have been repeatedly criticized—and accepted the criticism as largely true—for being too willing to ignore the potential negative ways in which the platform can be used. And yet here, one of the basic principles of how they moderate speech is to be so optimistic as to give Holocaust deniers the benefit of the doubt.
Zuckerberg seems to be imagining a circumstance in which somebody watches a YouTube video that makes a case against the (real, documented, horrifying) Holocaust and ignorantly posts it to Facebook. Under the rules that the platform has established, there is no penalty for that (in countries where Holocaust denial is not illegal). The person is not technically harassing any one individual with the post, nor is the post what Facebook would call “inauthentic,” in the sense that it was shared by a real person who genuinely believes what they’ve posted. Holocaust denial is a dangerous thing with deep roots in ongoing anti-Semitism, but it’s not against any rule.