Facebook Bans Holocaust Denial as It Gains Traction on Social Networking Platforms
Holocaust denial is growing at an accelerated rate. For anyone who hasn’t read through the outrageous beliefs of deniers, it is an eye-opening experience. Whereas once deniers kept their beliefs to themselves, today there is little shame in posting their antisemitic views online. In fact, it is now almost commonplace for me to receive absurd antisemitic messages asking if I am still promoting the “Holahoax” or gaining “sympathy for Jews” by teaching about the Holocaust.
A big milestone in the fight against Holocaust denial was reached this week when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided to ban it. He explained, “With rising antisemitism, we’re expanding our policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.” He added, “I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust.”
I’m glad to see Zuckerberg has finally listened to what we have been telling him for many years, which is that there is a direct link between antisemitism and violence. How could there not be given the spate of violent antisemitic attacks around the world? The Holocaust itself first began with a process of dehumanization of the Jewish population, and was easily followed up with mass murder.
Holocaust denial is essentially based on four absurd principles: First, conspiracy theorist antisemites argue that the Holocaust was faked by the victors of World War II to weave their own story for their own agenda. Second, Holocaust deniers argue simply that the Holocaust did not happen; it was not a genocide. At worst, they say, it was a series of labor camps. Third, deniers argue that the Holocaust was exaggerated and the evidence proves a much smaller number of people were murdered. Finally, and most disturbingly, Holocaust deniers say that Jews brought the genocide upon themselves and therefore deserved it.
It is one thing to receive antisemitic messages if you are operating in the Jewish world. Its another if you are a young Instagram influencer with some 50,000 followers and trying to genuinely educate them. Recently, one influencer who posts under the name, “the savvy truth” was forced to shut down her comments section because of an onslaught of Holocaust denying antisemitism posted by some followers.
She posted Holocaust-related pictures as evidence of the genocide, alongside the following text: “Jews, Gypsies, [LGBTQ], political enemies, mentally ill … and anyone deemed inferior to the Aryan race were rounded up, stuffed into trains and were sent to concentration camps. When arriving at these death camps, you were either gassed right away and killed, sent to work hard labor for the rest of your life, forced to walk death marches, or sent to be used as test subjects for eugenics.”
In reply, she received many sympathetic comments, including ones from grandchildren of survivors. But the disparaging comments ultimately led her to disable the comments section “to respect the victims from being disrespected by you idiots.” She asked, “How can you say that the #holocaust was fake? How can you tell Holocaust victims that their horrendous torture didn’t happen?”
Holocaust denial may be on the fringes of society at the moment, but Facebook has identified it as a serious problem. In fact, 11% of US Millennials and Gen Zs believe that Jews are responsible for the Holocaust according to a survey conducted by the Claims Conference. The problem is that while the survey found that Holocaust ignorance is quite high — with some 63% not knowing that six million Jews were murdered — the more troubling part is that some 49% have seen what is now called Holocaust distortion.
That “distortion” is being disseminated online in chat rooms and in response to Holocaust postings like the one mentioned above. Whereas in the past, fringe neo-Nazis reached only a handful of people through face-to-face recruitment and flyers, the Internet can reach billions of people, picking up those who are susceptible to conspiracy theories and hatred for Jews and minority groups.
These outrageous sentiments are becoming more perceptible online and on the street. Holocaust deniers contradict themselves by promoting Nazi ideology. After all, if there was no Holocaust, could there have been a Nazi ideology in the first place? We can visibly see this contradiction on a daily basis when swastikas are graffitied on synagogues, Jewish businesses, and on streets, as they were in Paris this past weekend. We also see it through state-sponsored antisemitism, as in the case of Iran — a hostile nation that is coincidentally launching its fifth annual Holocaust cartoon contest.
As Jews, we face denial of our history and existence every day. There are those who attempt to deny the historical fact that Israel is our homeland. They try and explain away archeology that shows we are indigenous to that land. And for more than 2,000 years, many have attempted to deny our faith by trying to convert us through religious inquisitions. And now, once again, deniers are trying to rewrite history by erasing the memory of the six million.
We cannot let them continue spreading their falsehoods. Now more than ever, we must double our energy to educate and advocate about the Holocaust — particularly in Europe and America. If not now, when?
Avi Benlolo is a Canadian human rights activist, and the former president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center.