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Fresh Facebook Controversy: Zuckerberg Defends Rights Of Holocaust Deniers


There's a fresh controversy for Facebook. Yesterday in an interview with the podcast Recode, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Holocaust deniers should be allowed to express their opinion on the social media platform.


MARK ZUCKERBERG: At the end of the day, I don't believe that our platform should take that down because I think that there are things that different people get wrong. Either - I don't think that they're intentionally getting it wrong.

SHAPIRO: That statement comes amidst mounting concerns about Facebook's inability to weed out misinformation. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Facebook has often stated its mission to create community and expose people to new ideas. The problem is some of those ideas can be deeply offensive.

DAVID SHIH: You have to tolerate the hate speech if you're going to get past it. What if that doesn't happen?

GARSD: Professor David Shih teaches literature at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He says it's a risky proposition.

SHIH: And if that doesn't happen, what you have is this preponderance of hate speech put out into the public that causes injury and harm to targeted groups.

GARSD: Take the case of Myanmar. Last year during the Rohingya crisis, there were rampant insults against Muslims on social media. The United Nations then accused Facebook of contributing to the violence. Facebook has since pledged to remove posts intended to promote physical harm. Intention is a key word for Zuckerberg - the difference between what offends us and what is intended to cause violence.

ROBERT SHIBLEY: The social media companies have largely taken on the characteristics of a public square. And one of the responsibilities that we expect of those who guard the public square is to allow a wide diversity of views.

GARSD: Robert Shibley is the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit for free speech.

SHIBLEY: Well, I think it's human nature for people to feel uncomfortable when they hear things that they find objectionable or offensive or repugnant. You know, the normal reaction to that throughout all of history is to try to get that person to stop doing it. But unfortunately, it's not one that is particularly compatible with having a free, liberal democracy.

GARSD: Sticks and stones can break your bones, but Facebook posts can never hurt you. Professor David Shih, who teaches Asian literature, says for minorities that have been historically targeted, that's far from true.

SHIH: Who gets to decide that violence may or may not follow that speech? Those of us who have minority identities all know that we might find ourselves in a situation where somebody uses language directed at us, and we deeply fear that violence will follow.

GARSD: Since his comments aired, Zuckerberg has clarified that he does not defend Holocaust deniers and Facebook remains committed to stopping misinformation. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.
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