The Online Hate Prevention Institute recently started a fundraiser to tackling antisemitism – our focus area for the month of June. Just as we experienced with our March campaign on Islamophobia, announcing the campaign drew the haters out of the woodwork. One of them promoted Holocaust denial through their comment, but a look at their Facebook avoid showed a mountain on conspiracy theory posts related to COVID-19. In this briefing we explore this user’s Holocaust denial comment and what they’ve been sharing online.
This comment was just one of 174 we received on the post announcing our campaign. Most of them were antisemitic, efforts to undermine the campaign, or efforts that (intentionally or not) include elements of antisemitic narratives. We received 300 reactions (likes etc) during this same period, 44 of them being the “Haha” response, people laughing at the effort to tackle this form of hate.
The Internet gives people access to more information than ever before. Unfortunately, not all that information is true. Those who fall in to the conspiracy trap, whether over the Holocaust, climate change, vaccinations, or Coronavirus, are conditioned to distrust credible sources of information in favour of a information from a network of conspiracy theorists. Accepting one conspiracy theory opens them up to others. When the information they are rejecting is health information… that opens up a whole new level of risk – to them and to others.
The Holocaust denial comment
The comment on our page, posted in reply to the announcement of our campaign on antisemitism, read: “Road to reparation riches., milking the undead. Greatest scam in history protected by law.”
During the Holocaust the Nazis not only killed six million Jews, they confiscated the assets of both the Jews they killed and those they rounded up who survived. This confiscation of assets was done under the cover of laws passed by the Nazi government. It included ownership of companies, real estate, art work, cash and any other assets the Nazis could seize. Dental work at the time used gold to make fillings, and those killed in the gas chambers had even their fillings pulled from their teeth.
Following the war Germany (then just West Germany) began paying compensation to the survivors of the Holocaust as well as returning assets seized by the Nazis to their owners, or the surviving family of owners who had been murdered. This is the reparation process. The funds given by Germany provided for the resettlement costs of Holocaust survivors and a life long pension. They are managed by a charity known as the Claims Conference, or in full, the “Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany”.
The reference to Holocaust survivors as “the undead” seems to be suggestion that their suffering is being somehow exploited. It seems somewhat dismissive of both the horrors of the Holocaust and the problem of antisemitism today.
The phrase “Greatest scam in history protected by law” is open Holocaust denial. It calls the Holocaust, an incredibly well documented historic event, a scam. The early evidence of the Holocaust was largely compiled by a military court for the Nuremberg Trials between 1945 and 1949. The evidence was primarily based not on eye-witness testimony, but on documents and photographs made by the Nazis themselves and then seized by the Allies. Holocaust denial is a form of conspiracy theory which seeks to invent reasons to reject the evidence of the Holocaust. The judgement of the David Irving trial highlights exactly how Holocaust deniers like Irving go about doing this, and that it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
The phrase “protected by law” related to the fact the Holocaust denial is illegal in a number of countries. These laws are designed to prevent a spread of neo-Nazism, that is, racist groups that seek to revive Nazi ideology. In Australia Holocaust denial is not explicitly banned by legislation, but the courts have found it to be a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. The first case which applies the Racial Discrimination Act to the Internet was Jones v Toben, a case about Holocaust denial.
The following examples are all from this same account and all of them relate to material posted over the last week.
Dismissing the seriousness of Coronavirus
This first image, shared from a Facebook page, downplays the danger of Coronavirus.
This next post promotes a video that was removed by YouTube. It features two US doctors who own the only private walk-in COVID-19 testing facility in Bakersfield, California. As KQED (a US community media organisation) explained, their video which was released last weekend went viral on YouTube reaching 5 million views (before it was removed) and then saw them features on Fox News. Using their own test results and extrapolating in ways that were scientifically flawed they argued that COVID was no worse than the flu saying repeatedly “Millions of cases, small amount of death” repeatedly.
Public health expert quickly explained the flaw in the two doctors methodology. For one thing, their sample was people they tested, not the general population they then extrapolated to. That is, it was a sample people who were far more likely to test positive. Dr. Carl Bergstrom, a biologist from the University of Washington said this was like “estimating the average height of Americans from the players on an NBA court”. He went on to say “They’ve used methods that are ludicrous to get results that are completely implausible”.
The American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine released a statement in which they “emphatically condemn” the video. These called the statements from the two docvtors “reckless and untested” and “inconsistent with current science and epidemiology regarding COVID-19”. They said it appeared that the two doctors were “releasing biased, non-peer reviewed data to advance their personal financial interests without regard for the public’s health.”
Undermining Government Messaging
A post with a face mask and the text “It’s a hoax” seeks to reject the very idea there is pandemic.
So too does this post they shared which says “COVID-19 IS A HOAX” and the comment “There is no Global Pandemic”.
This next example shows a carrot on a strong being used to control a person, in the manner it might be used to control a donkey. The text reads “You can have your freedom back., If you download the COVIDsafe government app”. The implications is that COVID-19 is being used as a way of asserting greater government control.
This post, shared from an anti-vaxxer page, says the image shown is a Vaccine, then adds “let the genocide begin”.
Another one from the same page also shared by this user alludes to conspiracy theories that allege the Gates Foundation (which is a health focused charity) is really focused on a depopulation agenda using vaccines. This is a conspiracy theory from a few years ago based on deliberately distorting information, as shown by Snopes. It is now recirculating due to Coronavirus and high interest in a vaccine for it.
The meme is related to another they shared alleging there is a Bill and Melinda Gates funded “Centre for Global Human Population Reduction”. This has been exposed by Snopes as a Hoax.
Another one from the anti-vaxxer page says, “to demand for vaccine studies implies you aren’t fully convinced that vaccines are causing death and disability”. This is an example of a logic fallacy known as “begging the claim”. The idea “vaccines are causing death and disability” is presented as a statement of fact, with the question being whether more tests are needed to prove it. In reality the statement (made about vaccines in general by anti-vaxxers) is untrue and has nothing to do with clinical trials.
Rejecting valid information
This examples suggests those who are trying to help in the COVID-19 crisis are not really doing so, and those who believe they are must be stupid (or in this case not worth talking to / dating).
This next meme suggests the data on COVID-19 isn’t real.
This account is deep into conspiracy theories and the anti-vaxxer movement. During COVID-19 almost all there energy appears to have diverted into spreading conspiracy theories denying there is a virus at all, or seeking to promote misinformation. There is in fact very little else there account is used for. Accounts like these should be closed. They are nothing more than tools for promoting dangerous lies.
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