Holocaust denial is thriving on social media with Facebook algorithm ‘actively’ suggesting similar content to users

A photo of social media icons, including those of Facebook and Twitter where Holocaust denial is thriving.

Holocaust denial groups are thriving on Facebook and Twitter according to a new report. It’s argued that both platforms “provide a home to an established and active community of Holocaust deniers”. And what’s more, Facebook’s own algorithm is “actively” suggesting Holocaust denial content to users. 

The report’s authors also point out that Facebook executives “have explicitly rationalised allowing Holocaust denial” on the website.

“Established” and “active” Holocaust denial

“Hosting the ‘Holohoax’” was authored by Jakob Guhl and Jacob Davey for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). It summarises research the pair carried out over the last two years into Holocaust denial. Guhl and Davey write that it “provides a snapshot of Holocaust denial” on social media platforms. 

And although “not a comprehensive overview”, they contend that the report reveals how social media has become “a home” to “established and active” Holocaust deniers.

Facebook

It’s pointed out that Holocaust denial content is found on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube. But it is on Facebook and Twitter where it thrives. 

By analysing the popularity of the term “holohoax” they found 36 Facebook pages and groups. These are groups “which are either specifically dedicated to Holocaust denial or which host Holocaust denial content”. 

The groups and pages discovered were “ideologically diverse”, with nine being “extreme-right communities”. And the rest being a mix of anti-Zionist, pro-Palestine, conspiracy theorist, Islamist, or Christian communities.

The Facebook pages and groups have a combined number of followers of 366,038 with the average number of members coming to 10,168.

Corporate policy?

But Guhl and Davey also point to Facebook’s own role in the promotion of Holocaust denial on its platform. They discovered that “Holocaust denial is actively recommended through Facebook’s algorithm”. When a user is a follower of Holocaust denial pages or groups other similar pages and groups are recommended to the user.

Another issue they flagged is the response of Facebook executives to the problem. They argue that the company’s decision-makers “have explicitly rationalised allowing Holocaust denial” on the platform. 

For example, in 2019 Facebook’s Vice President for Global Public Policy, Joel Kaplan, defended allowing Holocaust denial on the website. He told a US commission that his company will not remove such content that consists of “lies” or is “inaccurate”. He defended the policy by saying:

this is because we do believe that people should be able to say things on Facebook that are wrong or inaccurate, even when they are offensive.

Guhl and Davey insist that this viewpoint is problematic. This is because Kaplan and Facebook “see Holocaust denial as a matter of historical accuracy, rather than a specific tool used to attack minority communities”. And this in turn perpetuates age-old anti-Semitic stereotypes and “delegitimises the suffering of the Jews”.

Twitter

On Twitter a similar pattern was seen by the ISD. During the same two-year time period around 19,000 posts with the term “holohoax” were recorded by the researchers. It was also noted that there were “periodical peaks and down periods” around use of “holohoax”, which was in line with similar trends on Facebook. 

Although the report notes pushback against use of the term by Twitter users, “these voices are in a minority”. 

Some of the tweets shared included content directly questioning the fact and scale of the Holocaust. One account associated with QAnon promotion, and with 48,000 followers, “alleged that Anne Frank’s diary was a fraud”. And this was pushed as evidence for the so-called “holohoax”.

Taking a “minimal first step”

The authors conclude the report by declaring that their research shows “how Facebook has been unwilling to recognise Holocaust denial as a form of hate speech against Jews”.  Because of this there is a “well-established and ideologically diverse” group of Holocaust deniers using the platform. 

Guhl and Davey suggest that Facebook and Twitter need to do more to tackle Holocaust denial. Facebook, they insist, has a “conceptual blind-spot” when it comes to the issue. One “minimal first step” the company could take is to stop its algorithm from recommending Holocaust denial pages and groups to users.

A social media problem

Social media, but particularly Facebook, has been taken to task again and again by anti-racism groups for the way in which hate speech flourishes online. Only in the last two months has Facebook appeared to do anything about the problem. And even then its hand was forced by large corporations pulling their advertising from the website as well as the unease of investors at the development.

The likes of Facebook have given us the ability to keep in touch with friends all across the world and share information in a way that was unimaginable 20 years ago.

But these same technological innovations are being used to promote hate and racism. In this case, it’s being used to spread the dangerous lie that the Holocaust never happened.

Holocaust denial has long been a weapon of the far-right and extremists who target Jewish people. The idea that such ideas are allowed to be openly spread on Facebook and Twitter is horrific. 

It appears that the suffering of millions of innocent Jewish people is worth less than the profit that social media companies can make from extremists and conspiracy theorists.

Featured image via Flickr – Jack Sem


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