Holocaust denial is hate, not an opinion

Mark Auschwitz liberation by banning it on Facebook

- Jonathan A. Greenblatt Jonathan A. Greenblatt is CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

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 in concentrat­ion camps across Europe during World War II.

Along with videotaped survivor testimonie­s and Holocaust education in schools, this goes a long way toward ensuring that the message of “Never Again” will resonate into the future.

But at a time when anti-Semitism is rising and 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 to promote greater awareness and guard against denialism.

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 last March when, in announcing the change to its policy prohibitin­g white nationalis­m, 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” that 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 antiSemite­s — 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.

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.

Denial is anti-Semitism

Other platforms are also confrontin­g this. 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.

If the tech industry is going to address these problems, it needs to fully recognize 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.

With online hate speech and white supremacy demonstrab­ly leading to violent acts — witness Pittsburgh, Poway, El Paso, Christchur­ch, Jersey City, Monsey and Halle, Germany — the history of the Holocaust must be preserved and respected. Social media companies can play a unique role by adopting policies that explicitly forbid Holocaust denial. It’s time for these companies to step up.

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