By Jeff Horwitz 

Facebook Inc. said it would begin removing Holocaust denials or distortions from its social media platforms, a move that follows years of complaints from civil rights groups that the company tolerated hate speech and enabled the spread of misinformation.

The move -- announced Monday in a company blog post and on Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg's personal Facebook page -- is the latest step by Facebook broadening its approach to content removals. Typically the company sought removals in instances where the material posed imminent harm to an individual or group of people, reflecting Mr. Zuckerberg's reluctance to police discourse on its platforms. In recent months, Facebook has banned groups and pages devoted to spreading the wide-ranging conspiracy theory known as QAnon as well as militia groups.

How Facebook deals with content disputing the Holocaust, the Nazi killing of 6 million Jews before and during World War II, has been a longstanding subject of controversy. In 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg drew widespread condemnation from civil rights and Holocaust remembrance organizations when he defended the right of Holocaust deniers to express their views on Facebook. In an interview with tech publication Recode he said he didn't believe they were "intentionally getting it wrong."

Mr. Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, said his thinking has since changed.

"I've struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust, " Mr. Zuckerberg wrote, citing data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence as helping sway his decision. "Drawing the right lines between what is and isn't acceptable speech isn't straightforward, but with the current state of the world, I believe this is the right balance."

The Facebook co-founder said the company has long removed posts praising hate crimes and mass murder. With the new rule, if people search for the Holocaust on Facebook, they will soon be directed to authoritative sources to get accurate information, Mr. Zuckerberg said.

Earlier this year, Facebook also banned claims that Jewish people run the world or its major institutions, though critics have faulted the reliability of the company's enforcement measures.

In a statement Monday morning, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt praised the policy change but called it long overdue.

"While we are relieved to learn this news, we also would note that platform decisions of this nature are only as good as the companies' enforcement," he said.

In the company blog post Monday, Content Policy Chief Monika Bickert warned that it wouldn't be able to fully enforce its ban on Holocaust denial immediately.

"There is a range of content that can violate these policies, and it will take some time to train our reviewers and systems on enforcement," the post said.

Write to Jeff Horwitz at Jeff.Horwitz@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 12, 2020 16:25 ET (20:25 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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