Holocaust survivors around the world are lending their voices to a campaign targeting Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to remove posts from the social media site which deny the Nazi genocide.
Coordinated by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the #NoDenyingIt campaign is posting videos to Facebook urging Zuckerberg to take action.
The call comes as Facebook faces an advertising boycott by 500 companies over hate speech on the site.
‘I lost my whole family,’ Eva Schloss, stepsister of Anne Frank, said in a video posted on Facebook Wednesday to kick off the campaign.
‘People who say the Holocaust did not happen are calling me a liar. My fellow survivors and I are not liars. We are witnesses,’ said Sidney Zoltak, who also was among the survivors featured in the footage.
Similar videos will be posted daily urging Zuckerberg to remove Holocaust-denying groups, pages and posts as hate speech. Videos will also be posted on Facebook-owned Instagram, as well as Twitter.
Zuckerberg raised the ire of the Claims Conference and others with comments he made in 2018 to the tech website Recode, saying that posts denying the Nazi annihilation of 6 million Jews would not necessarily be removed.
He said he did not think Holocaust deniers were ‘intentionally’ getting it wrong, and that as long as posts were not calling for harm or violence, even offensive content should be protected.
After an outcry, Zuckerberg, who is Jewish himself, clarified that while he personally found ‘Holocaust denial deeply offensive’, he believed that ‘the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.’
Since then, Facebook representatives have met with the Claims Conference.
But the group, which negotiates compensation payments from Germany for Holocaust victims, says Zuckerberg himself has refused to meet them himself.
The goal of the campaign is to get him to sit down with Holocaust survivors so that they can personally tell him their stories and make their case that denial violates Facebook’s hate speech standards and should be removed.
‘In Germany or in Austria people go to prison if they deny the Holocaust because they know it’s a lie, it’s libel,’ said Schloss, an Auschwitz survivor who today lives in London.
‘How can somebody really doubt it? Where are the 6 million people? There are tens of thousands of photos taken by the Nazis themselves. They were proud of what they were doing. They don’t deny it, they know they did it.’
Schloss’ family escaped before the war from Vienna to the Netherlands, where she became friends with Anne Frank, who lived nearby in Amsterdam and was the same age.
After the German army overran the country, the Schloss and Frank families went separately into hiding.
But both families were discovered by the Nazis during 1944, with the Schloss family betrayed by a Dutch woman.
Schloss and her mother survived Auschwitz, but her father and brother were killed, while Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was the only survivor of his immediate family. Otto married Schloss’ mother after the war.
Otto Frank published his daughter’s now-famous diary so that the world could hear her story. Schloss has written about her own story, is a frequent speaker and would like to tell Zuckerberg of her own experience.
‘It was just every day, the chimneys were smoking, the smell of burning flesh,’ the 91-year-old told The Associated Press, adding that she had been separated from her mother and assumed she had been gassed.
‘Can you imagine that feeling? I was 15-years-old and I felt alone in the world and it was terrible.’
Facebook said in a statement that it takes down Holocaust denial posts in countries where it is illegal, like Germany, France and Poland, while in countries where it is not an offense, like the US and Britain, it is carefully monitored to determine whether it crosses the line into what is allowed.
‘We take down any post that celebrates, defends, or attempts to justify the Holocaust,’ Facebook told the AP.
‘The same goes for any content that mocks Holocaust victims, accuses victims of lying about the atrocities, spews hate, or advocates for violence against Jewish people in any way. Posts and articles that deny the Holocaust often violate one or more of these standards and are removed from Facebook.’
Earlier this month, a two-year audit of Facebook’s civil rights record found ‘serious setbacks’ that have marred the social network’s progress on matters such as hate speech, misinformation and bias.
Zuckerberg is also one of the CEOs of big tech firms who face a grilling by Congress on Wednesday over how they dominate the market in a congressional hearing on antitrust issues.
Testimony from Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Apple’s Tim Cook, which was released Tuesday, portrays four chief executives who are looking over their shoulders at competitors who could render them obsolete.
They will be presented via video conference to the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel investigating how their business practices and data gathering have hurt smaller rivals.
Facebook also is facing a massive advertising boycott by more than 500 companies that began on July 1 also also intended to pressure the site into taking a stronger stand against hate speech.
Some companies, such as Starbucks, are pulling back social media advertising due to hate speech and other concerns but have not officially joined the ‘Stop Hate for Profit’ campaign.
Starbucks instead said it was working with civil rights groups to ‘stop the spread of hate speech.’
Coca-Cola and Unilever announced a similar pause on June 26, when Facebook saw its shares drop $56 billion in valuation in response to the negative publicity.
Walt Disney, also was among companies that didn’t officially join the boycott, also reportedly slashed its advertising. Disney was Facebook´s biggest US advertiser for the first six months of 2020, according to research firm Pathmatics.
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, said the time frame for Disney´s pullback was not clear.
A Facebook spokesperson declined to speak about a specific advertiser, citing company policy, but also released a statement.
‘We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and continuously work with outside experts to review and update our policies,’ the statement said.
‘We know we have more work to do, and we’ll continue to work with civil rights groups, [the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, or GARM], and other experts to develop even more tools, technology and policies to continue this fight.’
The Claims Conference decided to launch its own campaign after concluding the boycott ‘doesn’t seem to be making a dent,’ said Greg Schneider, the Claims Conference’s executive vice president.
Several Holocaust denial groups have been identified on Facebook by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, some hidden and most private.
On one, ‘Real World War 2 History’, administrators are clearly aware of the fine line between what is and isn’t allowed, listing among its rules that members must ‘avoid posts that feature grotesque cartoons that FB censors can construe as racist or hateful’.
Another page, the ‘Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust,’ features regular posts of revisionist videos, including one from February in which the commentator says the Zyklon B gas used to kill Jews in Nazi death camps was actually employed to kill the lice that spread typhus, claiming ‘this chemical was used to improve the inmates´ health and reduce, not increase, camp mortality.’
Though not overtly advocating attacks, such postings are meant to ‘perpetuate a myth, anti-Semitic tropes that somehow Jews made this up in order to gain sympathy or political advantage’ and could easily incite violence, Schneider said.
‘The United Nations has acknowledged that Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism, and of course anti-Semitism is hate speech,’ he said.
For Charlotte Knobloch, a prominent German Jewish leader who survived the Holocaust in hiding as a young girl and is participating in the campaign, it is particularly important for social media platforms to be vigilant about preventing denial because many in younger generations rely on them for information.
‘They have a particular responsibility,’ the 87-year-old told the AP.