Facebook is promoting Holocaust denial groups at the top of its search results.
This is despite cracking down on the anti-Semitic content on its algorithm so it doesn't get promoted much in its News Feed.
No other major search engines promote Holocaust denialism in their search results when users search for "Holocaust."
Mark Zuckerberg defended the presence of Holocaust deniers on Facebook this week despite widespread criticism, arguing that the company's algorithm will punish misinformation to restrict its circulation on the social network rather than deleting it outright.
But Facebook is still prominently showcasing groups that promote Holocaust denial at the top of its search results, Business Insider has found.
If a user searches for "Holocaust" on Facebook, some of the top results are for user-created groups that falsely claim the Nazi murder of millions of Jews was fabricated. These appear on the first page of the search results, as well as on the dedicated Groups tab of the search results.
The prominence of these groups in Facebook's search results reveal a gaping hole in Facebook's defenses to stop the spread of falsehoods on its service and raise new questions about the effectiveness, and seriousness, of Facebook's policies.
In contrast to Facebook's search results, if a user searches for "Holocaust" on Google, the first-page results are a mixture of news articles, legitimate informational websites, and other results, none of which suggest the Holocaust did not occur. The same is true of Yahoo, Microsoft-owned search engine Bing, and privacy-centric search engine DuckDuckGo.
Reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson said: "We find Holocaust denial to be repugnant and ignorant. Mark [Zuckerberg] has made that clear – and we agree that we 'find Holocaust denial deeply offensive.' We don’t allow people to celebrate or defend or try to justify the Holocaust. We also remove any content that mocks Holocaust victims or survivors."
'People are starting to wake up'
On Wednesday, technology news site Recode published a wide-ranging interview with CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It came on the back a furor over conspiracy theory website Infowars' use of Facebook, and Zuckerberg argued that the company did not feel comfortable restricting the "voice" of its users, even if they were clearly wrong.
Instead, he said, Facebook penalized hoaxers and misinformation spreaders with its algorithm, which ensures that such posts get far less traction and views in the News Feed. Zuckerberg cited Holocaust denialism as an example of content that was penalized but not banned.
"I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened," the Facebook founder said. "I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong."
But the News Feed is not the only way Facebook users can find and consume information on the social network. Holocaust denial groups rank highly in Facebook's Search results, mixed in alongside non-conspiracy-theorist groups.
The groups vary slightly in their search ranking position from user to user. One such group, "The Open Holocaust Debate," has more than 1,600 members and frequently ranks in the top three search results. Billed as a "study group," its users frequently post anti-Semitic messages and deny that the Holocaust occurred.
Another in the top-ten results is the 1,000-member "Holocaust Revisionism," which has a description that reads in part: "many people are starting to wake up, and find out that the official story which we have been told about the Holocaust may not be 100% true ... the truth of the matter is that Hitler was a Zionist puppet from start to finish... and that the whole Holocaust thing was part of a Messianic agenda in order to fulfill a Sabbatean Frankist version of prophecy."
Facebook says search results are unique — but the issue is widespread
In an emailed statement, a Facebook spokesperson said that search results are unique to each user: "They're ordered algorithmically based on a combination of many factors. A few of the factors that determine what Groups appear in the Groups module on the search results page include relevance to what you type into the search bar, if you are connected to members of the Group and the activity level of the Group. "
However, Business Insider tested the "Holocaust" search with four different users, and Holocaust denial groups appeared highly every time — indicating this is likely a widespread issue. For two of the users, "The Open Holocaust Debate" was ranked third, and "Holocaust Revisionism" was ranked sixth. For one user, the former was ranked second and the latter was ranked eighth. And for another, "The Open Holocaust Debate" was ranked sixth.
The spokesperson added that Facebook blocks Holocaust denial content in countries where it is illegal, and takes down groups if they "[devolve] into threats or statements of hate."
The prominence of Holocaust denial groups in Facebook's search results risk misinforming users seeking more information about the historic atrocity, especially as Facebook increasingly encourages the Groups feature as a way to make connections on the platform.
A recent survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 11% of US adults were not sure if they had heard of the Holocaust and that 2 out of 3 Americans between 18 and 34 years of age could not identify Auschwitz.
While Facebook has begun taking greater steps to stop the spread of misinformation in its NewsFeed, it's not clear to what extent the company is policing the other corners of its 2-billion member internet service.
With its engineering resources and capital, Facebook should be capable of solving the problem with technology.
After all, no other major search engine promotes Holocaust denial material on its first page of results for "Holocaust."