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July 13, 2022 1:26 pm

UNESCO Report Reveals Spread of Holocaust Denial, Distortion on Social Media Networks

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Telegram logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

A report released on Wednesday by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the UN Department for Global Communications details the proliferation of Holocaust denial and distortion online, and how social media platforms are used to promote misinformation about the atrocities of World War II.

The 68-page report, released in partnership with the World Jewish Congress, studies Holocaust denial and distortion on Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, TikTok and Twitter in English, French, German and Spanish.

Among its findings, the report noted that nearly half of all Holocaust-related content on public Telegram channels, which are not moderated, are false, misleading or distorted. Posts about the Holocaust on moderated platforms such as Facebook and Twitter were found to include denial or distortion 10 percent and 15 percent of the time, respectively.

The study — “History Under Attack: Holocaust Denial and Distortion on Social Media” — is the first report from UNESCO and the UN to address Holocaust denial and distortion. Characterizing social media platforms as “fertile ground for hate and prejudice,” the study proposed updated content moderation standards for governments, online platforms, educators and researchers.

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“As Holocaust deniers become more sophisticated, so must those who are working to fight this evil,” WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said in a statement.

Data reviewed in the report stem from nearly 4,000 pieces of content related to the Holocaust, including posts and memes, that were collected in June and July 2021 from the five major platforms. The content was examined by experts from the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford.

“Understanding the history of the Holocaust is crucial to safeguarding our future,” wrote UN Secretary-General António Guterres in the report’s foreword. “This is particularly crucial as we see some seeking to rewrite history or to whitewash and rehabilitate those who committed crimes against humanity. If we fail to identify and confront the lies and inhumanity that fueled past atrocities, we are ill-prepared to prevent them in the future.”

The UN chief added: “Antisemitism, Holocaust denial and distortion, and any form of religious bigotry and hatred are a seismograph. The more they rattle our world, the greater the cracks to the foundations of our common humanity.”

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said the report shows how inadequately moderated social media networks allow Holocaust denial and distortion to be used “to fuel hatred.”

“We can fight against these phenomena by taking action on content and educating users,” she added. “But we cannot only rely on the voluntary participation of platforms: We also need common principles and guidelines.”

In 2021, Facebook launched a feature inviting users who search for keywords associated with the Holocaust to learn more by visiting the WJC and UNESCO site, while TikTok followed suit earlier this year. The website, now available in 19 languages, has about 15,000 daily users.

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