There’s been significant reporting on how social networks drive misinformation and conspiracies, and now we have some disturbing information about the prevailing presence of Holocaust deniers to drive home that fact. A harrowing new study conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that a significant percentage of young Americans believe the Holocaust is a myth.
In a survey of young Americans aged 18 to 39 across, encompassing all 50 states with at least 200 participants per state, found that 23 percent, or one in ten, respondents said the Holocaust was either a complete fabrication or that the number of deaths had been greatly exaggerated, Vice reports. The stats don’t improve from there: 63 percent of those surveyed couldn’t name the number of Jew murdered, 36 percent thought the number was “two million or less,” 48 percent couldn’t name a single concentration camp or ghetto, and worst of all: 11 percent believed Jews caused the Holocaust, and 12 percent said they don’t think they’ve heard the word “Holocaust” before.
In total, while 90 percent of survey takers did say the Holocaust happened, seven percent said they were unsure, and three percent denied it outright. Disturbingly, that number jumps to 19 percent in New York, the state with the largest Jewish population in the country and apparently, the largest number of Holocaust deniers.
“There is no doubt that Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism. And when we fail to actively remember the facts of what happened, we risk a situation where prejudice and anti-Semitism will encroach on those facts,” Deborah Lipstadt, professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University told NBC. “When you learn the history of the Holocaust, you are not simply learning about the past. These lessons remain relevant today in order to understand not only anti-Semitism, but also all the other ‘isms’ of society. There is real danger to letting them fade.”
I’m sure there’s some urge to chalk up this dangerous misinformation to poor education, but social media proliferation is likely aiding the trend. Nearly half the participants reported coming across Holocaust denial or distortion content online. This data point isn’t surprising considering conspiracy theories snowball online. It wasn’t until 2019 that YouTube announced it would remove videos that deny factual catastrophes, such as the Holocaust, in an attempt to curb criticism that the video platform was a breeding ground for hate speech.
And yet, those videos persist–though YouTube has seen a decrease in this type of content. Facebook, where people with the most limited comprehension of digital literacy tend to congregate, is currently “actively promoting” Holocaust denier misinformation, according to a study published last month by the London think tank, Institute for Strategic Dialogue. Just typing “holocaust” into Facebook search yields Holocaust denial rhetoric.
Until there are successful avenues for content moderation and a greater cultural understanding that free speech and hate speech are mutually exclusive, I don’t see how this devastating information can change. Maybe these participants should begin by reading one of the myriad Holocaust-related YA books many of us obsessed over in adolescence. If the only way they glean “information” is through entertainment, it’s not too late to start.