On Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 Facebook instituted a policy banning “any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.” Historically, this would have been seen as a no-brainer, a way to score easy corporate-citizenship points to a largely supportive public. However, in the age of Trumpist populism, even a corporation choosing to not host content in support of a regime that murdered six million people is controversial. Long gone, it seems, are the days when American intervention in World War II was an essential element of our nation’s character. Long gone is the American ideal of freedom from oppression, replaced instead by the freedom to be a bigot. Long gone is the memory of the 400,000 Americans that sacrificed their lives not just for their countrymen, but for total strangers. And yet, here we are.
Facebook’s decision to ban Holocaust denial cannot be examined in a political vacuum. Facebook was founded by its current CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a prominent Jewish man, though this decision does not appear to have stemmed from his religion. In fact, this decision reverses Facebook’s previous stance, in which Zuckerberg publicly declined to regulate the speech of its user base. That this reversal comes less than a month before one of the most contentious elections in American history is no coincidence.
President Trump has openly resisted efforts to get him to denounce white supremacy, an ideal that is often affiliated with the Nazi party responsible for the Holocaust. This implicit endorsement of beliefs that used to exist only on the margins of society has galvanized a disenfranchised subset of the population that finds their white nationalist rhetoric suddenly acceptable to a mainstream audience for the first time in 50 years. While racism and xenophobia have persisted indefinitely, there always existed some stigma associated with the public embrace of those stances. Donald Trump tapped into his base’s long-simmering resentment to ride a populist wave to the highest office in the land, and has used his position to publicly attack companies like Facebook and Twitter over their policies against hate speech or those that he feels are disadvantageous to him personally and politically.
Facebook has had a checkered history of preventing vitriol of this sort from permeating its site. Both Facebook and Twitter are widely considered to be havens for extremists to anonymously spew misinformation and hate onto their feeds without consequence. This decision to disallow Holocaust denial is a small step towards repairing this tarnished image, providing a springboard towards a social morality that has become increasingly muddied in today’s America. Denouncing Nazis should not be controversial, nor should it be news. Denouncing Nazis is an embrace of humanity. Facebook’s decision is long overdue, but late is better than never. One can only hope that this action becomes an example that others follow.