In a lengthy interview with Recode published Wednesday, Recode co-founder Kara Swisher pressed the Facebook CEO to explain how he can simultaneously say he is combating the spread of false information on Facebook but won't issue a firm rebuke to conspiracy content that claims, for instance, that the Sandy Hook massacre didn't happen.
Zuckerberg dug himself into an even deeper hole by offering up Holocaust denialism as another example of Facebook content he wouldn't remove from the network.
"I'm Jewish, and there's a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened," Zuckerberg 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. I don't think that they're intentionally getting it wrong. I think ―"
Swisher quickly interrupted him to question his choice of example.
"In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead," she interjected.
But Zuckerberg doubled down, implying that there is a good-faith debate happening on Facebook about the systematic slaughter of around 6 million Jewish people during World War II.
"It's hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent," Zuckerberg responded. "I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly. I'm sure you do. I'm sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, and I just don't think that it is the right thing to say, 'We're going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.'"
Critics quickly picked up on Zuckerberg's comments, noting that his logic casts doubt on Facebook's ability to prevent another Cambridge Analytica scandal or the additional spread of Russian propaganda during a U.S. election.
"Holocaust denial is a willful, deliberate and longstanding deception tactic by anti-Semites that is incontrovertibly hateful, hurtful, and threatening to Jews. Facebook has a moral and ethical obligation not to allow its dissemination," Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.
More weighed in on social media.
Zuckerberg followed up on his comments to say Facebook has a removal policy for content encouraging any harm or violence, but that false news ― even viral content that makes it into the top 100 items trending on Facebook in a given day ― would only be downgraded by the platform's algorithm so it's seen by fewer users.
Amid the backlash, Zuckerberg sent Swisher an email attempting to clarify the comments in question.
"I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn't intend to defend the intent of people who deny that," he wrote. His position on whether Facebook would remove such content did not change, however, and he reiterated the strategy of downsizing the posts' reach in users' newsfeeds.
This story has been updated with comment from the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League and an email from Zuckerberg.