Since the world first learned of the genocide that unfolded in concentration camps across Europe during World War II, there has been much progress toward ensuring the lessons of the Holocaust are not easily forgotten.
As we mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, there’s solace in the fact that world leaders, the United Nations and European governments continue to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews and millions of others who perished. Along with videotaped survivor testimonies and Holocaust education in schools, this goes a long way toward ensuring that the message of “Never Again” will continue to resonate into the future.
But there’s also reason for concern. At a time when anti-Semitism is rising and when public awareness of the Holocaust is waning, we cannot let our guard down and assume the world won’t forget. Recent trends suggest that there’s much work to be done, both in terms of promoting greater awareness and in guarding against denialism.
Anti-Semitic content thrives online
The ready availability of Holocaust denial on social media remains one of the most pressing problems.
With a staggering 2.45 billion monthly active users worldwide, Facebook is the largest and most established offender. Facebook’s policies still do not specify Holocaust denial to be hate.
This, despite the controversy in 2018 after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg suggested that Holocaust denial — while abhorrent to him — was nevertheless an opinion, not outright hate speech, and therefore not prohibited content. Facebook doubled down on this approach when, in announcing the change to its policy prohibiting white nationalism in March 2019, it reaffirmed that Holocaust denial was a form of misinformation.
This means that even if you report Holocaust denial on Facebook, and even if it is determined by Facebook to be Holocaust denial, it will not be taken down for violating Facebook’s policies. You can easily locate pages from notorious Holocaust denial groups on Facebook with just a few clicks. For instance, a group called “Holocaust Revisionism,” with over 1,900 members, includes posts promoting a “Holocaust Deprogramming Course” which claims it will free readers “from a lifetime of Holo-brainwashing.” To Facebook, this is merely misinformation.
Let’s be clear: Holocaust denial is nothing more than anti-Semitism. It is an attempt to deny the Jewish people their history, one of many tactics used by bigots in the long-running campaign to delegitimize the Jewish people. Deniers claim that the Holocaust never happened, or that some much smaller number of Jews did die but primarily from diseases. They also claim that accounts of the Holocaust are merely propaganda generated by Jews for their own benefit. Denialism is often used by some of the world’s foremost anti-Semites — among them former Ku Klux Klan wizard David Duke, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and 2018 congressional candidate Arthur Jones — to foment hate against Jews.
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Holocaust denial and related forms of anti-Semitism are easily available to anyone with an internet connection. According to law enforcement, more than a month before a machete-wielding man stabbed five people at a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York, he used an online search engine for the query, “Why did Hitler hate the Jews?” Given the well-documented proliferation of anti-Semitism on social media and on the internet in general, one would assume he found plenty of confirmation of his alleged biases.
Some popular social media platforms recently have taken steps to mitigate the impact of Holocaust denial. On Jan. 8, TikTok released a new set of community guidelines that banned Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories. Last June, YouTube changed its policy to ban videos promoting Holocaust denial, white supremacy and harmful conspiracy theories. These are welcome developments.
Some online sites are stepping up
Even so, the question remains: With the countless videos and other types of content being shared on these social platforms and others, how does anyone enforce or police this effectively?
Other platforms are struggling with this, too. It was recently brought to the attention of Spotify, the music streaming service, that a cursory search of its playlists for “Anne Frank” found playlists with disturbing titles such as “getting gassed with Anne Frank.” Spotify says it is in the process of removing those offensive playlists.
Online retailer Amazon has struggled to deal with retailers hawking questionable Nazi-glorifying merchandise such as Auschwitz Holocaust Christmas ornaments. And a recent Anti-Defamation League survey found that almost 1 in 10 Americans who play online multiplayer games are exposed to discussions about Holocaust denial.
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Addressing these problems will take a concerted effort by the tech industry. For that to happen, though, there needs to be a full recognition of a basic reality: Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism and therefore hate speech. Unfortunately, Facebook, the largest social media platform on the planet, just can’t seem to get there.
At a time when online hate speech and white supremacy is demonstrably leading to violent acts — witness Pittsburgh, Poway, El Paso, Christchurch, Jersey City, Monsey and Halle, Germany — it is imperative that the history of the Holocaust is preserved and respected.
Social media companies can play a unique role in helping preserve that history by adopting policies that explicitly forbid Holocaust denial. In light of the wave of anti-Semitic violence that has plagued our country over the past year, it’s time for these companies to step up.
Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Follow him on Twitter: @JGreenblattADL
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism hate speech. Facebook should ban it.
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