At a ceremony to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, António Guterres warned that anti-Semitism, hate speech and misinformation are rampant in Germany 90 years after the rise of the Nazi Party.
In his speech, Guterres recalled that in just a few months the Nazis dismantled fundamental freedoms and paved the way for the establishment of a totalitarian regime: parliamentarians were arrested, freedom of the press abolished and the first concentration camp was set up in Dachau.
Nazi anti-Semitism became government policy, followed by organized violence and mass murder: “By the end of the war, six million children, women and men – almost two in three European Jews – had been murdered.”
Warning signals are ignored
Guterres drew parallels between 1933 and today’s world, noting that “already the alarm bells were ringing” then, but “very few bothered to listen let alone speak”.
The UN chief stressed that there were many “echoes of the same siren song of hate” and that we are currently living in a world where the economic crisis is fueling discontent; where populist demagogues are using the crisis to win votes, and where “misinformation, paranoid conspiracy theories and unbridled hate speech” are rampant.
Added to this accumulation of factors were a growing lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law, a “rise” in racist and neo-Nazi ideologies, Holocaust denial and revisionism, and a rise in anti-Semitism, as well as other forms of religious intolerance and hatred.
Anti-Semitism is everywhere
The Secretary-General lamented that anti-Semitism was “pervasive” and denounced that “it is actually growing in intensity.”
António Guterres cited the attacks last year on a group of orthodox Jews in downtown New York City, the intimidation of Jewish schoolchildren in Melbourne and the swastikas painted on the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as examples.
Place safety barriers
The UN chief stressed that these situations do not only occur with anti-Semitism, but are also reproduced through other forms of hatred such as racism, intolerance towards Muslims, xenophobia, homophobia and misogyny.
For this reason, Guterres called on governments, technology companies, the media and civil society to stop hate, set boundaries and apply them.
He also drew attention to social media companies and their advertisers, who he believes are complicit in spreading extremism and turning many corners of the internet into “toxic dumping ground for hate and heartless lies.”
The UN contribution to solving this problem includes the Secretary-General’s strategy and action plan on hate speech, proposals for a Global Digital Compact for an open, free, inclusive and secure digital future, and a code of conduct to promote the integrity of public information.
The UN contribution on this topic includes the Secretary-General’s strategy and action plan on hate speech, a proposal for a Global Digital Compact for an open, free, inclusive and secure digital future, and a code of conduct to promote the integrity of public information.
New currents of anti-Semitism
The President of the General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, recalled that although the United Nations’ main debating body was created to ensure that no one has to endure situations like those of Holocaust survivors, in 2023 all over the world “New Waves” of Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial”.
“They seep into our daily lives like poison. We hear it from politicians, we read about it in the media. The hatred that made the Holocaust possible continues to smolder,” Kőrösi explained.
Act from education and moderation
In a statement to mark the international day, UNESCO mentioned that its alliance with leading social networking company Meta – owners of Facebook and TikTok – represents a first step in the fight against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, but acknowledged there is still work to be done .
This program includes the development of online resources in collaboration with the World Jewish Congress that are now being used by platforms to counter the proliferation of content that denies and distorts the Holocaust.
“As we move into a world where fewer and fewer survivors can testify to what happened, it is imperative that social media companies take responsibility for combating misinformation and better protecting those affected by antisemitism and hate speech are,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
Holocaust denial is a constant on the internet
Research by UNESCO shows that antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortion continue to spread across all social media platforms.
On average, posts about the Holocaust on social media distorted the story by 16% in 2022. On Telegram, which has no content moderation, that number jumps to 49%, while on Twitter, the number has risen significantly following the upheaval in US businesses late last year.
Off the grid, UNESCO has programs around the world to promote education about the Holocaust and genocide.
Beginning in February, the organization and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum plan to train officials from the education departments of 10 countries who will develop ambitious educational projects on the subject of the Holocaust and genocide. In the US, they will train educators on how to deal with anti-Semitism in schools.