A report issued this week by the Anti-Defamation League has found that a majority of mainstream digital platforms are responding inadequately to content that promotes Holocaust denial, despite specific pledges by some of these companies to fight it.
“Online Holocaust Denial Report Card” looked at the various ways popular social media websites, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, handle Holocaust denial.
Released Wednesday on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the report considered whether the company has an explicit policy barring Holocaust denial, how quickly it responded to a post containing such content, and whether any action was taken.
The results, according to ADL researchers, were not very good.
“Allowing this sort of hateful, toxic [rhetoric] to become so prevalent and normalized threatens the values of our society,” Daniel Kelley told J. He is the report’s author and the associate director of the ADL’s Center for Technology and Society in Silicon Valley, launched in 2016 to combat online hate. “That’s why it matters.”
Kelley used his personal social media accounts to search for Holocaust denial content, and then reported it to the respective companies.
Kelley and other ADL staffers assessed how nine popular online platforms approach Holocaust denial and then gave each a grade. The livestreaming and gaming service Twitch received the highest grade, a B. Twitter, YouTube, TikTok and the gaming platform Roblox received C’s. Facebook/Instagram, Reddit, the video game distribution company Steam and the messaging platform Discord all received D’s.
Aside from TikTok and Steam, all of the companies are headquartered in the Bay Area.
Twitch, which allows people to livestream content — especially online gamers who want to show themselves playing a game — received the highest marks because the company has an explicit policy banning Holocaust denial content. The company also responded within 24 hours to a post and took action against it.
That was in contrast with YouTube (owned by Google), which like Twitch has a policy barring Holocaust denial on its platform. But YouTube did not respond within 24 hours to a video Kelley found promoting Holocaust denial and subsequently did not take action on it, either, according to the report.
One major conclusion Kelley drew was that even when there are established policies surrounding hate speech, they are “not the end all, be all” of eradicating it. Companies must take “meaningful enforcement” steps if they are to try to rein in Holocaust denial, he said.
The “most surprising” finding of the report — and something Kelley thinks is “most fixable” — was that none of the online platforms appear to have a system or rationale they can use to measure whether flagged Holocaust denial content is indeed over the line.
The report also included startling statistics about how widespread Holocaust denial content is on the internet.
For example, it cited a September 2020 survey from the Claims Conference, a group in charge of German reparations for Holocaust survivors, noting that 49 percent of Americans under 40 “were exposed to Holocaust denial or distortion across social media.” The report also cited an ADL study from last year that found 10 percent of online gamers have encountered Holocaust denial.
Kelley conceded that the sheer size of these platforms, which in some cases have billions of users, presents a serious challenge for the companies.
If a social media company has 1 billion users, he said, and they each post once a day, even a 99 percent success rate in monitoring all that shared content would still leave 10 million other problematic posts that could potentially slip through the cracks.
“The issues of content moderation are really about choosing which mistakes they make,” Kelley said. “They’re going to make mistakes. The scales are too massive for there not to be mistakes. It’s just a question about where to put those resources on how to address those mistakes.”
Even when online platforms have publicly announced efforts to curb Holocaust denial, their success has varied.
Last October, Facebook announced it would ban such content after major outcry from Holocaust survivors and academics. CEO Mark Zuckerberg previously had said Holocaust denial did not violate company content moderation rules. On Jan. 27, Facebook released a “fact check box” to direct users to information about the history of the Holocaust.
But Kelley’s report found that Facebook was “the only platform in our investigation that either failed to respond to our reports, or claimed the content we reported did not violate its Holocaust denial policy.”
Twitter also has faced backlash for Holocaust denial on its platform. On Jan. 11, activists from the End Jew Hatred group protested outside CEO Jack Dorsey’s home in San Francisco. While Twitter announced last October that it, too, would crack down on Holocaust denial, the activists said such content was still easy to find.