OpEd | When online hate is left to flourish - World Jewish Congress

OpEd | When online hate is left to flourish

 Maram Stern
Maram Stern
Executive Vice President, World Jewish Congress
OpEd | When online hate is left to flourish

If right now I go on the “Telegram” messaging app and search for public information on the “Holocaust”, there is a 50 percent chance the result will be information denying or distorting the memory of the Shoah. If I search in the German language, the chances go up to 80 percent.

That is worth repeating – 80 percent of information in German language found on public channels on “Telegram” either claims the Holocaust did not happen, or significantly distorts the facts.

This, according to a publication by the United Nations and UNESCO, supported by the World Jewish Congress and published this month, that studies the extent and nature of Holocaust denial and distortion on Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, TikTok and Twitter in English, French, German and Spanish.

These antisemitic posts are easily accessible to people searching for information about the Holocaust on the platform. Since Telegram does not have a policy to take action on Holocaust denial or distortion, it essentially is creating a fertile ground for it to grow. People who want to deny the Holocaust, trivialize it, mock it – flock to Telegram to do so freely.

The study also found Holocaust Denial on the other platforms, but where platforms moderate the content available and have relevant policies, the numbers were much lower. Nearly one in five (19 per cent) of all Holocaust-related public Twitter content either denied or distorted the history. 17 per cent of public TikTok content that related to the Holocaust either denied or distorted the Holocaust. Eight per cent of public Holocaust-related content on Facebook was either Holocaust denial or distortion. Three per cent of material posted publicly on Instagram discussing the Holocaust either denied or distorted the history.

This information is often spread in posts and memes that mock Jewish victims of the Holocaust or glorify Hitler, where users sometimes lament that the Nazis did not succeed in eliminating all of Europe’s Jews.

More than just words on a screen, this hateful rhetoric and distortion of history can spawn acts of violence targeted at Jews and others. During the 2019 terror attack on Yom Kippur in Halle, Germany, the assailant livestreamed a rant to social media, claiming that the Holocaust never happened. Other attackers have shared similar messages through social media posts as well as online scripts.

Telegram, the app founded in 2013 by Russian entrepreneurs Pavel and Nikolai Durov, and now headquartered in the UAE, has already been declared in Germany as more than a messaging app, and needs to abide by German law and the NetzDG act. It continues to refuse to work with authorities and only in few instances did it moderate terrorism and extremism on the platform.

In a few years, we will not have survivors to tell their testimonies of the Holocaust as their numbers dwindle. We will instead have millions of pieces of information circulating globally claiming that these survivors were exaggerating, even lying, about their dehumanization and persecution by the Nazi regime. If we do not act now, we will not only lose the memory of the Holocaust and its lessons to our societies, but we will enable the rehabilitation of the violent ideology that stood behind it. We call on governments and international organizations to take a more active role in combating this hate online.

The World Jewish Congress also works with internet platforms and UNESCO to support the spread of Holocaust education information. An example of this is Facebook and TikTok’s introduction of features encouraging users to learn more about the Holocaust at WJC and UNESCO’s online platform www.aboutholocaust.org. Now, when users search for terms associated with the Holocaust, they are prompted to visit the site, which has facts about the Holocaust in 19 languages. TikTok, which appeals to young people due to its focus on fast-paced browsing, also attaches a notification to the bottom of individual posts referencing the Holocaust through hashtags and keywords, in addition to the search feature. This has proved particularly effective.

In large part because of our organizational partnership, more than 1 million users have viewed accurate historical information about the Holocaust that provides essential context for the more troubling online content.

We will continue to sound the alarm and work to counter all forms of hate. Yet it is up to all of us, as members of a peace-seeking, pluralistic society, to take measures to safeguard the future, for generations to come. Germany can and should take the lead on this.

This piece was originally published in the Austrian newspaper Wiener Zeitung.