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Facebook, Reddit receive low marks for Holocaust denial content

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Facebook has been under pressure to combat more hate speech.


Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook, Reddit, Discord and Steam received low grades from the Anti-Defamation League on Wednesday for the handling of Holocaust denial content on their platforms. The ADL issued the report to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The ADL, an advocacy group focused on fighting antisemitism and hate, gave the four platforms Ds in a report card based on a range of criteria, including whether they had policies against Holocaust denial content and how difficult such content was to find on their platforms. The group said it also reported Holocaust denial content from “non-official accounts” in January to see how these companies enforced their rules. Enforcement was weighted more heavily in the grade, the ADL said in the report.

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A total of nine companies were evaluated by the ADL and no platform earned an A. Twitch, a live video streaming service, got a B, the highest grade given. Twitter, YouTube, TikTok and Roblox received Cs. While both Twitch and Facebook have rules against Holocaust denial content, Twitch took action against reported content while Facebook didn’t, the report said. The ADL cited several examples of Holocaust denial content that was reported to Facebook, including videos with captions such as “Holohoax tales.” The group received a message from Facebook stating the videos didn’t violate its rules but noted the content could be offensive.

“In recent years, content denying the Holocaust has appeared on an array of social media platforms, largely because those companies have not been nimble enough or taken the issue seriously,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “While some platforms have finally stepped up their efforts to stop the amplification of denial, others are still struggling to address antisemitism and Holocaust denial effectively.”

The report raises questions about how well Facebook and other platforms are enforcing their rules against Holocaust denial content specifically. The ADL helped organize a campaign last year that urged advertisers to pause spending on Facebook ads to pressure the company to do a better job of combating hate speech. The group recommends the platforms enforce its rules against Holocaust denial consistently, provide more information to users about how content moderation decisions are made and change products so they’re focused more on user safety.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company disagreed with the grade it received. The social network said starting on Wednesday people who search for terms associated with the Holocaust or Holocaust denial will get a message directing them to credible information about the genocide. The message says “the Holocaust was the organized persecution and killing of 6 million Jewish people, alongside other targeted groups, by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II.” It encourages users to visit a website about the Holocaust.

“We don’t agree — we’ve made major progress in fighting Holocaust denial on Facebook by implementing a new policy prohibiting it and enforcing against these hateful lies in every country around the world,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We’ve removed the content mentioned in this report and will continue working to keep Holocaust denial off of our platform.”

Facebook banned Holocaust denial content in October. In 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, sparked outrage after he said that Holocaust denial content shouldn’t be removed from the social network because he didn’t think “that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.” He then said in an October Facebook post “his thinking evolved” after he saw data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence. 

Reddit said it removed the content cited in the ADL report. “Reddit’s site-wide policies prohibit any content that incites violence or promotes hate based on identity or vulnerability, including Holocaust denial content,” a Reddit spokeswoman said in a statement. The company also “quarantines” communities that share offensive content including posts that deny the Holocaust happened. That means users have to click through a warning to view this content.  

Discord said in a statement it views Holocaust denial content as “deeply harmful” and it doesn’t allow it on its service. The company has an internal policy against that type of content and said it would take action against the content found by the ADL. Twitch and TikTok said hateful conduct isn’t allowed on its platform either. “We work closely with experts in the fields of hate speech, including anti-semitism, to ensure our policies are comprehensive and are pleased to see that our efforts to keep this content off our service are having a measurable impact,” a Twitch spokesperson said.

TikTok said it continually updates its policies and systems to combat hateful behavior. “We welcome guidance from experts like the ADL as we strive to promote a safe community environment,” a company spokeswoman said.

Twitter didn’t immediately have a statement. Google-owned YouTube, Steam and Roblox didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Hopes Google, Facebook deals will underpin a rise in journalism jobs

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“We have seen no guarantees from the big media companies that money raised from the digital platforms will be spent on journalism,” said MEAA Media federal president Marcus Strom said last week.

“If some of this the Facebook and Google’s massive Australian revenue is now to be returned to media companies, there must be a corresponding commitment that the money is spent on news content, not dividends or corporate bonuses. The media companies must provide transparency about how they intend to allocate these funds.“

There are signs at least some companies are already progressing with plans to do just that despite challenging market conditions.

Guardian Australia is expected to take another floor in its Surry Hills office for new employees while industry sources have indicated News Corp Australia, owner of The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun, is considering hiring almost 100 journalists with the money. News Corp declined to comment.

National broadcaster the ABC has not yet signed any deals with Google or Facebook but has pledged it will use the money to invest in regional journalism.

But Nine, which owns television, radio and newspaper assets (including this masthead) has been less explicit. A spokesperson for Nine referred back to comments made publicly by chief executive Hugh Marks.

Mr Marks said at a Senate inquiry more than one week ago that if funding from tech giants wasn’t secured, job losses at Nine’s publications would continue.

Following the company’s half-year financial results last week, Mr Marks indicated the company would consider hiring new journalists. “You won’t be able to say a dollar here goes to $1 there but you can look at that business and say it’s a strong viable sustainable publishing business that will be able to support journalism going forward,” he said.

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“If there are opportunities for us to employ more journalists to get a positive result then we will do that. But it certainly underpins the future of journalism in this market.”

Seven West Media chief executive James Warburton said most of the money the company expects to gain from its deals with Google and Facebook will be used for Perth based newspaper The West Australian and its regional titles. He initially said the cash would be dropped to the bottom line and be used for repayment of debt but now says it will be focused on improving the newspapers’ digital strategy.

Seven’s deal also has a YouTube component, which means some of the money will be spent on television content.

“It will support quality journalism in metropolitan, regional and community markets and underpin the digital strength and sustainability of our news businesses going forward,” Mr Warburton said.

Industry sources who are familiar with the various agreements have said that some publishers have an audio component – which requires them to invest a large amount of money in areas such as podcasting. Other companies will use the money for distribution strategies to build their digital audiences.

For smaller outlets like Junkee, the money will provide an important backbone for the business to continue its work.

“We haven’t made any definitive decisions yet about how we’ll spend the money, but this moment presents a unique opportunity for us to invest in public interest journalism,” Junkee’s editorial director Rob Stott says. “We’ll be looking at a mix of original reporting and background infrastructure that will make Junkee a more sustainable operation into the future. I’m extremely excited about the potential for this funding to make a real difference to the breadth and depth of content we produce.”

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Facebook banned my perfectly harmless article – and I think I know why

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You start by excluding fascists, anti-vaxxers and conspiracists. You end by banning pretty much anyone you disagree with. In recent months, Facebook has taken to labelling as fake, or removing altogether, a number of stunningly inoffensive pieces: a study by the American researcher Dr Indur Goklany claiming (quite correctly) that the number of people dying globally as a result of natural disasters was falling; a column by the investigative journalist Ian Birrell questioning whether the WHO had been too hasty in ruling out the possibility of a Wuhan leak; a report by the leading Oxford epidemiologist, Dr Carl Heneghan, of a Danish study arguing that facemasks made little difference to the spread of Covid-19.

And, now, an article of mine. Last week, I wrote a piece for the John Locke Institute (JLI), a high-minded organisation that runs summer schools and seminars, mainly for sixth-formers, offering in-depth tuition in the humanities subjects. I advanced the view that the epidemic had made us more collectivist, and that the post-lockdown world would be relatively authoritarian. The JLI bought advertising on Facebook to promote the piece. Facebook first authorised the advertisements, then pulled them without explanation.

In my case, as in all the others, it is impossible to know what the offence was. None of the pieces was making tendentious claims, let alone promoting conspiracy theories. Since Facebook offers neither explanations nor an open appeals process, we can only guess.

Are algorithms set in such a way as to screen out Right-of-centre opinions? Are they overseen by people with an explicit agenda? Is Facebook responding to pile-ons by woke activists? Is the real objection not so much to the content as to the authors?

I suspect the last. A few weeks ago, Think Scotland, a Unionist website, tried to advertise two articles critical of Nicola Sturgeon. Facebook said no on the bizarre grounds that they violated its “Vaccine Discourager” guidelines. The editor, Brian Monteith, suspecting that Facebook was being pressurised by Cybernats, experimentally tried to advertise a wholly unpolitical article about a young mother potty-training her daughter. It, too, was rejected. Eventually, after a campaign mounted by Toby Young’s Free Speech Union, Facebook backed down.

For what it’s worth, I take the view that Facebook, as a private company, can run whatever adverts it likes. But let’s be absolutely clear that it is now a publisher – a publisher with an agenda. Any notion that Facebook (or Twitter, or YouTube) is simply a platform has gone. It is one more opinionated channel, alongside Fox News, Russia Today, the BBC and the Morning Star.

What is most interesting is not the fact that Facebook has its biases – we all have biases – but what those biases are. Bizarrely for a company that was originally meant to facilitate the free flow of ideas, it has become intolerant of dissent – or, at least, of certain forms dissent. You generally won’t get into trouble for denying Stalin’s crimes, boycotting Israel or celebrating Margaret Thatcher’s death. But question whether there is excessive use of state power in enforcing lockdowns or reducing carbon emissions and you may be excluded.

Indeed, we seem to be reaching the point where simply to call for free speech is becoming dangerous. To the extent that the JLI can be said to have a collective view on anything, it believes in heterodoxy. Its founder, a former Oxford academic called Martin Cox, ensures that his summer schools and seminars hear a range of views from top lecturers, and encourages his students to engage with ideas that might initially repel them. That is, if you think about it, the essence of liberalism.

The article of mine which JLI ran, the one Facebook found intolerable, was not about Covid-19 or public health. It was about the fragility of an open society, the way a shared threat can throw people back on their tribal instincts, and the consequent likelihood that powers seized by governments on a supposedly contingent basis in 2020 won’t be relinquished when the epidemic passes.

Any organisation that sees such opinions as unacceptable is – there is no other way to put this – hostile to liberty.

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Tragic reason why man tried to live stream death on Facebook

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A man who threatened to live stream his own death on Facebook after he was denied euthanasia despite a viral campaign now plans to travel to Switzerland to end his life.

Alain Cocq, 57, who suffers from a disease that is so rare that it does not even have a name, says he is in a permanent state of suffering.

His case went viral in September 2020 when he threatened to live stream his death on Facebook if French President Emmanuel Macron did not change the country’s laws to allow for assisted dying.

He had to give up on his project after Facebook cut the feed, but he is still advocating for changes in law and has now decided to go to Switzerland to be able to benefit from euthanasia there.

He is applying to the authorities in the Swiss capital Berne and he hopes to receive a positive response in the coming months, if not weeks.

Alain Cocq is now travelling to Switzerland after he was denied euthanasia. Source: Newsflash/Australscope

Alain Cocq is now travelling to Switzerland after he was denied euthanasia. Source: Newsflash/Australscope

Cocq suffers from a rare form of disease that has been described as being similar to ischaemia, which is when a restriction in blood being supplied to live tissue causes an oxygen shortage that damages the tissue and can cause dysfunctions.

There is no cure for his condition, which will, very slowly, prove fatal.

“I want end of life to become the primary theme of the presidential elections in 2022,” he told local French newspaper 20 Minutes.

Despite his appeal to the French president in September, President Macron said he was “unable to accede to his request” despite the “profound respect” he had for him.

The retired plumber, who has been ill for 34 years, is hoping the Swiss will help him end his life after a failed attempt with the European Court of human rights in 1993 and a first petition to the French government in 1994.

At the time, he was still in a wheelchair, but after that numerous cardiovascular and cerebral accidents rendered him permanently bedridden.

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