JUSTICE - No. 68

5 Summer 2022 demonstrate, while carrying Nazi banners, in Skokie, a Chicago suburb nearly half of whose population was Jewish and which was home to hundreds of Holocaust survivors. The attorney who represented the neo-Nazis (himself a Jew) saw the issue as clear-cut because, “if the government can prevent lawful speech because it is offensive and hateful, then it can prevent any speech that it dislikes.” In the end, although the courts ultimately ruled that the neo-Nazis had a right to peaceful assembly, the demonstration took place in downtown Chicago rather than in the town of Skokie. While the case was very controversial, it illustrates that in the United States, even abhorrent and hateful speech is protected. Indeed, in the United States’ tradition, the answer to bad speech – including racist, antisemitic, Holocaust denying and distorting speech – is not government intervention or censorship, but more speech; speech, however, that promotes tolerance and counters lies with facts. Internet and social media platforms are now the subject of debate with respect to regulation of content. As a general matter, U.S. law does not require digital platforms or services to regulate user content online that is protected under the First Amendment. In the United States, that means social media platforms are not liable for content posted by third parties. We might ask: should social media companies be responsible for the information people post on their sites? Should they be held responsible for the results of algorithms inciting hatred and violence? Should companies be regulated to limit their ability to do those things? Governments are trying to figure out how to deal with these thorny questions while respecting and protecting freedom of expression. In the meantime, some platforms have taken some actions against online Holocaust denial and distortion. In late 2020, Facebook finally agreed to take down posts which deny or distort the Holocaust and to instead direct users searching for information to authoritative sources. I tested that myself by searching for “Holocaust,” and “Holocaust hoax” on Facebook and each time I was directed to reliable sources. Twitter followed Facebook’s lead and banned Holocaust denial posts. Having said this, everyone acknowledges that it is extremely difficult to find and remove all instances of Holocaust distortion and denial. I also want to acknowledge that online platforms can be powerful tools for disseminating truth and facts. They pose a challenge to authoritarian regimes and can help amplify voices of peaceful dissent. Speaking about the reactions of such regimes with respect to their messages, Russia recently fined Google $100 million for “systematic failure to remove banned content,” which includes posts related to the peaceful political opposition. The People’s Republic of China has sophisticated controls to block websites and censor content, including about the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang. And so, while the Internet and social media help spread Holocaust denial and distortion, they also make it easier to publicly disseminate accessible, accurate information about the Holocaust and to publicize important information about serious violations of human rights. In conclusion, Holocaust denial and distortion not only deny and distort historical fact, they are also antithetical to our democratic values. Accurate historical education and truthful commemoration of the Holocaust teach new generations about our past, and the horrors to which unbridled hate can lead. What can we do about this? As we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we must do all we can, every day, to counter Holocaust denial and distortion, and other modern manifestations of antisemitism and other forms of hate. We must stand up for the truth and promote the accurate and truthful history of the horrors of the Holocaust. We must highlight the painful lessons of the Holocaust, including the importance of respecting the human rights and dignity of people who are different from each other. That is the only way we will ever fulfill our solemn pledge of “never again.” n Ellen Germain assumed her duties as United States Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues on August 23, 2021. She is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. Ellen Germain served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2018-2021. Her previous positions include director of the Office of Arabian Peninsula Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (2015-2017), head of the U.S. Consulate General in Krakow, Poland (2012-2015), and postings as deputy political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad (2007-2008) and at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York (20082012) where she was responsible for issues relating to the Middle East, East Asia, and non-proliferation. In Washington, D.C. Ellen Germain has also held positions in the offices of Russian Affairs, Israel-Palestinian Affairs, and Maghreb Affairs. Her other overseas tours were Tel Aviv, London, and Moscow. She joined the Foreign Service in 1995.

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