July 27, 2011 at 6:30 PM ET
See update below
Holocaust survivors have issued a "plea" to Facebook to "deny access to their powerful social networking platform to anyone promoting" the notion that the Holocaust should be denied or that it was a hoax.
The survivors, affiliated with the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which also operates the highly regarded Museum of Tolerance, recently made the request of Facebook. The letter they wrote is shared on the center's website:
We, the undersigned, are Holocaust Survivors who saw our parents, children and loved ones brutally murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. We are writing to you to protest Facebook’s policy that categorizes Holocaust denial as “free speech,” rather than the shameless, cynical and hateful propaganda that it is...
Do not permit Holocaust denial any platform on Facebook to preach its inherent message of lies and hate. By allowing this hate propaganda on Facebook, you are exposing the public and, in particular, youth to the anti-Semitism which fueled the Holocaust. Please correct this terrible error in judgment before our generation passes away.
According to the Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, a "senior VP of Facebook offered to 'keep the dialogue open' on the matter but restated his company’s position: '… we also think it's important to maintain consistency in our policies, which don't generally prohibit people from making statements about historical events, no matter how ignorant the statement or how awful the event.”
Msnbc.com has contacted Facebook for comment. We will update the story if and when we hear back.
This is not the first time that the issue has come up. More than two years ago, CNET wrote about Facebook taking action to remove two Holocaust denial groups from the site, while leaving three others in place.
A Facebook spokesman told CNET then that: "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. This has happened in the past, especially when controversial groups are publicized."
Earlier this year, Facebook agreed to remove a page that called on Palestinians to take up arms against Israel, after the Israeli government appealed to Facebook.
On the page, Palestinians were urged to take to the streets after Friday prayers May 15 and begin an uprising. "Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews," a quote from the page said.
For Holocaust survivors, who have had to endure a lifetime of pain, Facebook's denial/hoax pages are more salt rubbed into their considerable wounds.
“I cannot ... emphasize enough how wrong Facebook's policy on Holocaust denial is," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in a statement.
"A review of denial sites currently active on Facebook confirm that it is not mere (free) speech but that it constitutes at its core a platform for bigotry and hatred of Jews, dead and alive. That is how notorious Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites continue to manipulate Facebook’s social networking service in multiple languages."
Update at 7:35 pm ET: Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes responded via email, saying "At Facebook, one of the toughest questions we face is how to handle the sharing of controversial ideas and opinions on the site. Recently, there has been a focus on groups created to deny the occurrence of the Holocaust. We find these groups to be repugnant and ignorant, just as we object to some of the other ideas expressed on Facebook.
"We have spent considerable time internally discussing the issues of Holocaust denial and have come to the conclusion that the mere statement of denying the Holocaust is not a violation of our terms.
"We think that there is a meaningful difference between advocating violence against a group of people and expressing an opinion on a policy, set of beliefs, or historical event — even if that opinion is factually wrong, or is outrageous or offensive to most people. However, if the members of the Holocaust denial groups consistently post hateful or threatening comments, we will take the groups down, and we have done so on many occasions."
Noyes also added this: "Many of us at Facebook have direct personal connection to the Holocaust, through parents who were forced to flee Europe or relatives who could not escape. We believe in Facebook’s mission that giving people tools to make the world more open is a better way to combat ignorance or deception than censorship, though we recognize that others may disagree."