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Facebook Execs Defend Company’s Standards in Response to Infowars, Holocaust-Denial Questions

The heads of Facebook’s entertainment-programming initiative defended the company’s standards for video and other content Wednesday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour.

VP of product Fidji Simo and head of global creative strategy Ricky Van Veen were on hand to discuss the original entertainment programming being developed for Facebook Watch. But a majority of questions they fielded had to do instead with the distribution of objectionable material through the video platform. Simo took the first such question, which made reference to content from Holocaust deniers being available on Facebook.

“Just to be very clear, we find Holocaust denial absolutely abhorrent,” Simo said. “We have community guidelines and community standards to guide a lot of these decisions, and sometimes our difficult decisions are not totally black and white.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was criticized last week by Jewish organizations and anti-racism groups for saying that Holocaust denial should be allowed on Facebook because it could be unintentional.

The execs were also asked about the availability on Facebook Watch of video from Infowars — the hard-right website that proliferates conspiracy theories, including the false claim that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax. On Wednesday, a group of parents of children killed in that massacre sent a letter to Zuckerberg condemning him for providing a platform to fringe groups spreading lies about the shooting.

“I find Infowars absolutely atrocious,” Simo said. “That being said, we have the hard job of trying to find a sense of balance between freedom of expression and safety.” She added, “There is a pretty big difference between what is allowed on Facebook and what gets distribution. So what we’re really trying to do is make it so that if you are saying something untrue on Facebook, you’re allowed to say it as long as you’re an authentic person and you are meeting the community standards. But we are trying to make it so it doesn’t get so much distribution.”

Van Veen expressed frustration when asked about Facebook Watch’s Fox News program, attempting to dismiss the question without answering. “Given the limited time,” Van Veen said, pointing out that exec Campbell Brown heads news for Facebook, “I’d love to talk about originals and Watch.”

When another reporter shouted “answer the question,” Simo responded, “We try to have a range of news shows that represent the entire political [spectrum].”

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