Stacy Herlihy
Stacy Herlihy

Facebook and the Misguided Protection of Anti-Semites

Facebook has decided that people can make anti-Semitic remarks on their site. They’ve also decided that people who make anti-SemItic remarks cannot be called out publicly for doing so. This policy is one of apparent long standing and one that is completely and utterly wrong.

The latest case in point?

My good friend Allison Hagood was recently given a seven day ban from posting on Facebook. Her offense? She posted the following screenshot on a Facebook page that she helps run:

screenshot heather murray cropped

A normal person might just manage to read this utter nonsense and perhaps laugh. They might even be tempted to post a snarky comment or share her post just to mock with others. After all, here we have a person engaging in the most vile kind of idiotic behavior. She’s making anti-Semitic remarks, perpetuating holocaust denial, attempting to rewrite history — your standard tinfoil hatted rant. It’s the sort of thing that might be funny were it not so obviously painfully earnest. It’s also the kind of viewpoint that completely deserves to be called out and the person making such remarks both shamed and corrected. People today need to know that there are still those in this world who think like this.

Unfortunately Facebook does not see it this way. Rather than side with Allison Hagood, a respected professor of psychology, published author and vaccine advocate, they have chosen to side with the person in question. The remarks made by Ms. Murray still remain in a public place on Facebook for all to see and read. I personally reported the post and was told that it does not violate community standards. The poster has not been sanctioned, lectured or banned. Ms. Hagood, on the other hand, is unable to post on Facebook for an entire week.

This is not the first time this particular person has chosen to make such remarks. Her rants are all over Facebook, as a bizarre testament to the way the human brain can resist rational information and choose to deliberately ignore factual evidence. She has repeatedly insulted others via Facebook, quoted from anti-Semitic texts, and written the sort of posts that might be at home in Nazi Germany. She’s also tried to get Ms. Hagood fired from her job.

Facebook officials have not chosen to punish with any kind of ban. She’s apparently free to rant away, oblivious to truth of any kind. This is not the first time that those running Facebook have failed to rebuke anti-Semites. Despite repeated attempts, a page called Jewish Ritual Murder still remains. Similar pages also exist unhindered on the site as well. A simple search of Facebook reveals other vile pages devoted to anti-Semitism including those devoted to holocaust denial, comparisons of Israel and the Nazis and pages that target individual Jews. I have no doubt that someone out there will probably use this article as a springboard to create even more hurtful pages.

As a firm believer in free speech I say such pages should be allowed to exist. Censorship would be wrong in this case. However, with the right to post comes the right to mock, to jeer and to respond to such lies. The terms of service at Facebook ask that most people posting on the site do so under their real names. In doing so, most of us are forced to drop to masks we wear and let others into our lives. The net result is perhaps a freer dialogue here than in most other spaces on the net where many people can easily hide behind fake names and false profiles even when they make comments they would never dare say to a neighbor.

In some real sense Facebook has become our de facto public square. This is where we gather together not only to post pics of our kids and share cute pictures of bunnies wearing a pancake on their heads. It is also where we meet to exchange ideas and often reveal our deepest selves. If your deepest self is someone who wants to assert that Jews control the world and lie constantly about the holocaust; that the United States is controlled by a handful of such people who force the world into war; that Hitler is simply a misunderstood hero — than others should have the right to call you out for your assertions.

People have the right to say whatever they damned well please in most instances. What they’ve rarely had is the right to be free of the consequences of their beliefs, let alone the right to literally ban anyone who calls them out on their behavior in the public square. In making such rules, Facebook officials are not only allowing people to spread evil, they are actively abetting it. As one of the keepers of our public spaces, this is a gross abdication of their fundamental principles and a betrayal of all of us who post there.

About the Author
Stacy Herlihy is the co-author of Your Baby's Best Shot: Why Vaccines are Safe and Save Lives (Roman & Littlefield 2012, paperback 2015). When not attempting to convince people that a shot or two is better than hearing loss, she has written for publications such as the Newark Star Ledger and USA Today. In her spare time, she raises daughters and domestic mush cats.