June 13, 2024
written by 
Karel Fracapane, Programme Specialist, UNESCO

What can we do to counter Holocaust denial and distortion?

A new report by UNESCO and the United Nations, in partnership with the World Jewish Congress, finds that over 16 per cent of material (more than 3 in every 20 posts) on social media platforms talking about the Holocaust denies or distorts its fundamental facts.

Holocaust denial and distortion feed on conspiracy theories, hate speech and violent ideologies. Through lies and manipulation, they fuel antisemitic prejudice by deflecting responsibility for the genocide of Europe’s Jews onto its victims.

At its most extreme, the study found that Holocaust distorters use social media as a platform to glorify the Holocaust. These narratives do not question the veracity of the past, but celebrate it, calling for further violence and promoting genocidal ideologies.

Other accounts mock the history and memory of the Holocaust using humour to shock and offend. Because they spread so rapidly, these “jokes” threaten to normalise narratives that belittle the suffering of the victims of the genocide.

What can online platforms do?

The report indicated that moderation policies do have an impact on the amount of publicly accessible material that denies of distorts the Holocaust. On Telegram, where there is no targeted content moderation policy or community guidelines on Holocaust denial and distortion, nearly half (49 per cent) of all Holocaust-related content on the online platform denies or distorts the history. This compared with nearly one in five (19 per cent) pieces of Holocaust-related content on Twitter, 17 per cent on TikTok, 8 per cent on Facebook and 3 per cent on Instagram, who have all introduced measures to target the presence of Holocaust denial on their platforms.

Online platforms should monitor and, when necessary, take action on content that denies or distorts the Holocaust. This includes downranking, de-amplifying, placing under warning label or removing harmful content.

Platforms can add fact-check labels to accurate information about the history of the Holocaust. Facebook and TikTok, for example, redirect their users to the UNESCO and World Jewish Congress website AboutHolocaust.org. The site, now available in 19 languages, has about 15,000 daily users. Total users number more than 1 million.

The role of education

We must also work together to develop people’s social and emotional skills to reject denial and distortion. This means helping teachers and formal and informal education systems develop teaching and learning resources that foster digital citizenship so that young people can engage with other users and with content in an active, critical, sensitive and ethical manner.

Existing programmes that educate people about the Holocaust should renew their efforts to develop historical literacy skills, including on platforms such as Telegram where there are large quantities of Holocaust denial and distortion. Young people should be knowledgeable about the past, be able to distinguish valid historical disagreement from Holocaust denial and distortion, and have access to archives and museums to build their skills to assess historical evidence for accuracy, prejudice and purpose. It is fundamental that young people are able to decipher history from lies, and can engage in meaningful discussions about history.

Educators should have access to training to better understand how Holocaust denial and distortion are communicated online, and the types of communities in which they currently circulate. They should be trained to better understand the forms and consequences of Holocaust denial and distortion, to better prepare learners to identify and respond appropriately when they encounter them.

Building coalitions to counter Holocaust denial and distortion

 Some of this expertise already exists among Holocaust museums, memorials, archives and other educational organisations, but we must forge coalitions and share best practices to coordinate and strengthen actions to educate to counter Holocaust denial and distortion on and through social media.

As stated by the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, “this report is an urgent wake-up call that must jolt us into action – to pursue truth, remembrance, and education, and together build a world of peace, dignity and justice for all.”

A joint initiative by the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the IHRA, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the United Nationsand UNESCO, the #ProtectTheFacts campaign raises awareness about recognizing and countering Holocaust distortion. Join the campaign.

Read more about the UNESCO and United Nations study.

The views expressed by the individual contributors to the blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the United Nations, UNESCO, or officials of Member States of the Council of Europe, the European Commission, IHRA, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the United Nations and UNESCO.

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