The strange case of the ‘Holohoax’: How social media is providing a warm home to conspiracy theories

Jewish communities have, for as long as history has been recorded, faced a significant threat because of who they are. These threats have materialised in a number of ways, for example, through the use of conspiracy theories. Such theories are, but not limited to, Jews running the global financial markets, or controlling the media. The prevalence of such theories can be found on the world wide web, a place where information is at our fingertips. Yet such information does not necessarily need to go through any kind of quality assurance, and where information is not contested, people become liable to believe it to be the truth. This has become no more apparent than the emergence of the ‘Holohoax’.

Holohoax is essentially holocaust denial. Proponents of it would suggest that it is a debate over historical facts, whereas bad faith actors would use it as a tool against Jews, to harm and frustrate Jewish communities and erase a significant part of their history. According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) non legally binding working definition of antisemitism, holocaust denial would be considered antisemitic. Therefore, tackling the Holohoax narrative seems quite simple. Adopt the IHRA definition and use it as a basis to evict such views that are not conducive to the public good. But that is easier said than done.

In a recent report from the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD)  – ‘Hosting the ‘Holohoax’: A Snapshot of Holocaust Denial Across Social Media’ – Jacob Ghul and Jacob Davey look at the role major social media platforms play in both tackling this scourge and also, providing it with a warm home. According to the executive summary, Facebook has 36 pages or groups that are either dedicated to or host Holocaust denial content. What is perhaps not so surprising is the diverse profile of such groups.

In breaking down and identifying the groups, the ISD report concludes that nine of the groups were considered to be of the ‘extreme-right’, whereas seven were anti-Zionist. Furthermore, five were pro-Palestine and one was an Islamist page. Mirroring that, there was also one Christian community that engaged in holocaust denial, as well as 13 conspiracy theorist communities which also hosted such content. Prima facie the diversity of these groups highlights that holocaust denial is perhaps less of an issue found in extreme right circles, but rather one that has managed to find itself in abodes of those that see Jews as the enemy.

Worryingly it is not just that diversity is found between the groups dedicated or hosting holocaust denial, it is that four major social media platforms are inconsistent in their approach to tackling it. Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube have all found themselves hosting the holohaux. This, the authors contend, is a blind spot that needs tackling.

Whilst Twitter – in comparison to Facebook – is better at removing such content, it is not done on the basis of the content itself, but rather images of such content. Furthermore and in regards to Facebook, with their insistence on freedom of speech, holocaust denial in the form of the holohoax, finds itself in an unchallenged arena. Strikingly, due to Facebook’s algorithm, the more you click onto such content, the more likely you will be led towards other content similar in nature.

In the case of Reddit and YouTube, both social media platforms tackle holocaust denial slightly better. Reddit has introduced what is known as ‘quarantining’. This is where content that either promotes hoaxes, or is not verifiable or falsifiable is therefore not accidentally accessed by users who have no interest in it. YouTube on the other hand have updated their hate speech policies. Since 2019, content that denies ‘well documented violent events’ such as the holocaust are banned.

It is clear that neither platforms mentioned are perfect in eradicating hate speech. Facebook is the main culprit that doesn’t see an issue with holocaust denial on the grounds of freedom of speech and freedom of belief. Yet such freedoms have a detrimental impact on an already persecuted minority of people. So, the question of free speech and belief appears to be a red herring. The question should really be, what responsibility does Facebook take for providing such hate a home to reside in?

Holocaust denial – according to the IHRA definition – is antisemitic. It is a form of hate speech against a minority of people that already suffer from discrimination and racism. That even in 2020, when the world is still learning to deal and manage a global pandemic, social media companies are allowing conspiracy theories to live rent free on their websites, should be a matter of shame. Everyone has a right to believe and say what they want, but it is for these social media companies to ensure that if such beliefs or speech promote hate, then they too are complicit and by definition, antisemitic. That is surely not what any of them would want.

The author, Wasiq, is a trustee of Muslims of Muslims Against Antisemitism

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