Fake news: Holocaust denial and distortion

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Fake news: Holocaust denial and distortion

Holocaust denial and distortion are spreading on social media platforms. Are we forgetting about the facts of the Holocaust?

Rising antisemitism in Europe

Over the past few years, the EARS analysts have engaged with the topic of antisemitism. One thing has become painfully clear from our research: antisemitism in Europe is on the rise. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, antisemitic conspiracy theories have gained greater popularity. Jews are increasingly faced with antisemitic stereotypes, vandalism, verbal abuse, and physical violence. Antisemitic attacks have even gone as far as murder, as in the case of Sarah Halimi, a French retired school teacher who was killed in 2017.

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2023

“Antisemitism led to the Holocaust but did not end with it. Antisemitism is again on the rise in Europe. So is Holocaust denial, distortion, trivialization, which is fueling antisemitism and has corrosive effects for collective European memory and cohesion.”[1]

These are the words spoken by President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission, in honour of the International Day of Holocaust Remembrance.

Together with UNESCO, the United Nations, and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the European Commission has initiated a global campaign against antisemitism. This campaign, called #ProtectTheFacts, intends to call attention to antisemitism and combat Holocaust distortion. In January 2022, the United Nations adopted a resolution urging its members to condemn and actively counter denial and distortion of the Holocaust. This year, on January 23rd 2023, the European Commission organised a conference to promote Holocaust remembrance and awareness: ‘Remembering the Past. Shaping the Future’.[2] These projects respond to a worrying trend of increasing Holocaust denial and distortion.

The Holocaust denied?

In January 2023, a study on Holocaust awareness in the Netherlands revealed shocking results. According to Claims Conference, an organisation defending the rights of Holocaust survivors, a quarter of Dutch people born after 1980 have doubts about the Holocaust. The research suggests that 23% of those surveyed believe that the Holocaust is a “myth” or that the number of victims is greatly exaggerated. Apart from this, 59% do not know that six million Jews were killed in the Second World War. Although most Dutch people do know about Anne Frank, 27% do not know that she died in a concentration camp. There are even some people who think that her diary is a forgery, according to this study.[3]

The research in question quickly received criticism from experts: the sample was not representative, the conclusions lacked nuance, and the results were not presented accurately.[4] Despite the obvious defects of this study, it does point towards an important recent trend: Holocaust denial and distortion are becoming more and more widespread.[5]

Holocaust denial and distortion on social media

Research shows that antisemitism and Holocaust distortion are being spread on social media platforms. According to a 2022 study by UNESCO and the United Nations, 49% of Telegram posts on the Holocaust distort historical facts. On Twitter, antisemitic content increased significantly in 2022. Compared to the year before, there was a striking increase of 23% percent.[6]

The circulation of social media posts that distort or deny the Holocaust is likely to have critical consequences. Antisemitism and Holocaust distortion are coming closer to the political mainstream. Ideas as such are even being incorporated into nationalist and populist narratives.[7]

As we are moving further away from the events of World War II, there seems to be more room for doubts and misinformation. Shockingly, antisemitism is on the rise once again. Holocaust denial and distortion are becoming more widespread. Are we forgetting about the atrocities of the Holocaust?

Zonne Dijkstra

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[1] International Day of Holocaust Remembrance: “We must never forget the fate of millions of Jewish people”, President von der Leyen says

[2] International Day of Holocaust Remembrance: “We must never forget the fate of millions of Jewish people”, President von der Leyen says

[3] Onderzoek: bijna kwart van de jongere Nederlanders gelooft feiten over Holocaust niet

[4] Dit is waarom er kritiek klinkt op Holocaust-onderzoek

[5] UNESCO calls for intensified collective efforts to combat antisemitism online

[6] UNESCO calls for intensified collective efforts to combat antisemitism online

[7] Greater efforts to counter Holocaust distortion needed to combat hate and protect democracy, OSCE says on International Holocaust Remembrance Day