While it stopped short of changing its stance with respect to Holocaust-denial groups on its Web site, Facebook has confirmed that it has disabled a group I brought attention to on Saturday, called "I Hate Muslims in Oz."
"We disabled the 'I Hate Muslims in Oz' group a day or so ago because it contained an explicit statement of hate. Where Holocaust-denial groups have done this and been reported, we've taken the same action," Facebook's Barry Schnitt said in an e-mail Wednesday.
Given President Obama's clear statement that Holocaust denial is "hateful," I asked Schnitt whether the company might be changing its stance on such groups. Previously, Facebook had said that Holocaust denial is not hateful per se and does not therefore contravene the company's terms of service.
"We're always discussing and evaluating our policies on reported content, but have no plans to change this policy at this time. In addition to discussing it internally, we continue to engage with third-party experts on the issue," he said.
Schnitt continued by outlining the parameters of Facebook's third-party content on the site: "Over the next couple of weeks, our chief privacy officer, Chris Kelly, will be engaging with experts at an event on cyberhate at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and at the UN Cyber Hate Seminar in New York.
Because the topic of Holocaust denial is such an emotive one, I also asked Schnitt a question that had initially been raised by Brian Cuban, and attorney and brother of Broadcast.com founder and billionaire Mark, on his blog the Cuban Revolution. I asked him: "Would involvement in a Holocaust-denial group affect a candidate's chances of getting a job, or, indeed, keeping a job, at Facebook?"
Schnitt replied: "There are a whole host of ignorant ideas that Facebook, as a communication platform, allows, even though they might hurt a candidate's chances of getting a job here or at any number of other companies."
He then went on to characterize the Facebook product as neutral: "Deciding what type of discussion should be allowed through a neutral tool for sharing, and what type of person would make an ideal employee at a company, are very different things, and we don't think our standards for the two should be the same."
Neutrality is a very, very difficult act to pull off. Currently, it balances on Facebook's own running definition of what is hateful and what isn't. It is a definition that clearly doesn't satisfy everyone. Indeed, it will be interesting to see what discussions Chris Kelly has with cyberhate experts in the coming weeks.