Facebook moderators temporarily removed a post by the Anne Frank Center which was seeking to raise awareness about the Holocaust, after the company was unable to distinguish between historical genocide and child nudity.
The post included an archive photograph of Jewish children who had been stripped and starved by Nazi Germany.
Between 1941 and 1945 the German state imprisoned and murdered millions of Jews in concentration and death camps — the child Anne Frank, who the Center is named after, being just one of them.
Frank died in 1945, aged 15, after her hiding place in Amsterdam had been uncovered. She was taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where, seven months later, she died of typhus.
In school history class as a teenager I remember being shown similar footage of the emaciated bodies of Jewish people starved and murdered during the Holocaust.
It’s not the kind of imagery you forget. It is terrible. Haunting. It is a shame of history, not pornography.
Facebook moderators apparently cannot tell the difference.
Around six hours after the Center complained on Twitter that the post had been taken down, Facebook reinstated it.
In a tweet replying to the Center’s complaint the company explains its actions, saying “we don’t allow nude images of children”, before ending with an apology for making the wrong decision in this case — owing to the image having “important historical significance”.
It wrote: “We put your post back up and sent you a message on FB. We don’t allow nude images of children on FB, but we know this is an important image of historical significance and we’ve restored it. We’re sorry and thank you for bringing it to our attention.”
If you’re getting an acute sense of deja-vu that’s because Facebook has similarly failed to understand historical context before — when, for example, in 2016 its moderators took down an iconic war photo of a child fleeing a napalm attack in Vietnam in 1972.
The violence had also stripped that child — clothing her with terror.
Again Facebook’s moderators simply couldn’t tell. So they scrubbed historical record from the platform. An outcry was necessary to reinstate it.
Called on that crime against history, Facebook described its moderating decision as a mistake — saying “we intend to do better”.
Two years later there’s no sign it’s living up to that stated intent.
Running the world’s biggest content platform without editorial oversight and with woefully under-resourced moderation is indeed a very hard problem. One that AI cannot hope to solve in any near or short term framework — if ever. Context is king for a reason.
The kicker here is that company founder Mark Zuckerberg continues to choose to provide a platform for Holocaust deniers on Facebook.
He could choose to ban Holocaust denial — which is, after all, an attack on both history and the Jewish people. But he prefers not to. He’s not for banning, unless it’s nudity. (Classic art nudes included, at times.)
And so we arrive at the tragi-ridiculous pass of true historical imagery of the Holocaust being scrubbed from Facebook — while vicious lies about the Holocaust are allowed to stand and swirl and take root via Facebook.
That’s what running a content platform without a moral compass looks like.
We asked Facebook to explain why it took down a post by the Anne Frank Center that was seeking to raise awareness about the Holocaust yet refuses to take down posts by Holocaust deniers who are seeking to undermine historical truth.
A company representative pointed us to its earlier response to the Center — but did not engage with our question.
Update: The Center has now sent us the following statement regarding Facebook’s actions:
Our original post was to draw attention to the fact that the Holocaust
is woefully undertaught across the USA and that ignorance on what
happened is a direct result of this. We have been working with
numerous state representatives across the nation to mandate K-12
Holocaust education through our 50-State Genocide Education project.
While Facebook removes the AFC’s post promoting the need to educate on
the past, it continues to allow pages and posts that directly deny the
reality of the deaths of more than six million people.
Holocaust denial dehumanizes people. It makes thousands feel unsafe.
It violates the very standards Facebook lays out for it users. Yet
these hate-filled propaganda pages remain.
We have written to Facebook previously offering to work with them to
tackle the spread of Holocaust denial and hate on its platform and to
If Facebook is serious about its community standards it should start
tackling Holocaust denial and not the organizations who are trying to
educate people on discrimination, facts, and history.
We understand the difficulty in assessing the context of potentially
controversial content. That said, it shouldn’t have taken us publicly
calling out Facebook to restore our post. Hopefully, Facebook can
revise their protocols.
We understand that the Center’s post was originally published on Facebook on August 21, and taken down by Facebook moderators on August 27 — before it was subsequently reinstated by Facebook after the Center complained.