One of the most insidious tendencies of the far-right is going beyond anti-Semitism - which in itself is inexcusable - to downplay or deny the Holocaust, the Shoah. Approximately six million Jews, two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population, were systematically murdered by the Nazis between 1941 and 1945. The killing intensified after the Wannsee Conference, overseen by Reinhard Heydrich, in early 1942.
The Nazis also systematically murdered hundreds of thousands of Roma, millions of ethnic Slavs, as many as two million ethnic Poles, and many others. The events which led to the Holocaust, the methods used, the numbers murdered, all were well-documented at the time, with many of those records surviving the war, despite attempts by retreating Nazis to cover their tracks. It happened; we should not forget that it happened.
Despite that knowledge, there are Nazi sympathisers who want to pretend it did not happen, and, worse, propagate the idea that it did not happen. So what Facebook’s CEO said yesterday has alarmed many: “Mark Zuckerberg defended the rights of Facebook users to publish Holocaust denial posts, saying he didn’t ‘think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong’”. Have I got news for him. That’s exactly what they are doing.
There was more. “He said Holocaust deniers were ‘deeply offensive’, but ‘I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong … It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly.’”
The Guardian’s report also notes “Last year, the Guardian reported on internal Facebook moderation documents which suggested that the company flouted Holocaust denial laws except in countries where it was likely to be sued or prosecuted.”
Zuckerberg then issued a clarification: “I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny [the Holocaust]. Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue - but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services”. But saying something untrue is what leads to Fake News.
And we know where this leads: “On Wednesday, Facebook told reporters at its Menlo Park headquarters that it would be taking down misinformation used to provoke physical harm, rather than just de-ranking it in the news feed … The announcement was spurred by outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka. One of the triggers for the violence was posts spreading misinformation about the Muslim community”.
Denying the Holocaust may not immediately lead to violence. But it sets the narrative off down a slippery slope, which ultimately leads there. Denying the Holocaust assists rehabilitation of Nazism and other kinds of authoritarian rule, creating the conditions for it all to happen over again. Next time it may not be Jews, but the act of erasing the Holocaust means that a next time becomes less a probability, and more a certainty.
Small wonder Zuckerberg finds himself plastered across the front page of the New York Daily News today. A Jewish man with ancestors from Germany, Austria and Poland letting the Holocaust Denial genie out of the bottle. We live in worrying times.