Facebook, the popular social networking Internet site, allows its users all over the world to stay connected with friends, post photos and videos, and form special interest discussion groups on a variety of topics.
But when one of those topics, Holocaust denial, began proliferating into scores of different groups, with numerous members, former Pittsburgher Brian Cuban decided to take action.
When he first heard about the groups back in November 2008, Cuban, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon, and now resides in Dallas, providing legal advice to his famous brother, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, began writing to Facebook in an effort to have it remove the groups from the site.
“I wrote Facebook, and I went with a legal argument,” Cuban said, speaking by telephone from Dallas. “Holocaust denial is against the law in 13 countries. Facebook’s Terms of Service prohibit illegal content. I asked them to remove the groups because it was a violation of their Terms of Service.”
In fact, Facebook’s Terms of Service state:
“You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law. … We can remove any content you post on Facebook if we believe that it violates this Statement.”
Although Holocaust denial is not illegal in the United States, it does violate the law in Austria, Belguim, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Israel, Slovakia and Switzerland.
Rather than addressing Cuban’s agrument, however, Facebook replied that it would not remove the groups because it wanted to encourage free speech, Cuban said. When Cuban responded that Facebook did not address the Terms of Service argument, he received no response.
It was not until this month, following President Obama’s recent speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum condemning Holocause denial, that Cuban decided to raise the issue with Facebook again.
Cuban wrote an article criticizing Facebook for its refusal to remove the Holocaust denial groups from its site. The article was titled “Obama and Facebook at Odds on Holocaust Denial,” and was posted on his blog, “The Cuban Revolution.” The gist of the article was then picked up by the Cnet blog, “Technically Incorrect.”
“Techinically Incorrect is a popular blog. It got millions of hits,” Cuban said. “Facebook took notice.”
After the story was picked up by other media, such as CNN, “Facebook said it was working on blocking the content in the countries where it is illegal,” Cuban said.
Although Facebook appears to have begun to take down some of the Holocaust denial groups, at least three of the groups, “Holocaust: A Series of Lies,” “Holohoax” and “Holocaust is a Myth” had not been removed as of Tuesday afternoon.
“Facebook views this as a revisionist theory that has to be discussed no matter how repugnant,” Cuban said. “My view is that it’s hate speech.
“It’s form over substance. Just because you call it one thing, and if it does something else, it doesn’t mean it’s not hate speech,” Cuban said.
“It’s baffling to me that they’re taking this position,” Cuban continued. “There are analogies to be made here. eBay had a similar controversy in 2001, with the selling of Nazi memorabilia. eBay took a bigger look at it and decided to block it worldwide.”
Although a few of the Holocaust denial groups are still up and running, Cuban feels like his campaign has made a difference.
“I think there was some progress made,” Cuban said. “They did shut down a few groups. But what Holocaust denial stands for as an idea is an idea of hate.”
Cuban suggests that if anyone agrees that these groups are inappropriate, they contact Facebook and local Jewish agencies.
“The more people that know about this, the more likely that it will become mainstream,” he said. “Facebook is motivated by the almighty dollar; when it gets to a million people [protesting], and the media says something, and the advertisers start reacting. That is their history. They’re not going to do anything until it’s going to cost them money.”
Cuban does not see the issue of allowing these groups to flourish as a free speech issue.
“I value free speech with every bone in my body,” Cuban said. “Free speech is great, but not all speech is free. There are consequences for many types of speech. The issue comes down to is Holocaust denial hate speech? I say, ‘yes.’ Facebook says ‘no.’”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)