In the age of the Internet, anti-Semitic remarks and Holocaust denial speech no longer circulate only in marginal hate groups but are exposed to everyone on social networks. High-profile figures like Ye – formerly known as Kayne West – or NBA player Kyrie Irving have echoed anti-Semitic ideas on their online accounts recently.
Beyond these media figures , worrying survey results also show that anti-Semitism is increasingly widespread. In 2021, using the most recent data available in the United States, the Anti-Defamation League reported that anti- Semitic incidents in the United States reached an all-time high. According to another ADL survey , 85% of Americans believe at least one anti-Jewish trope, and about 20% believe six or more tropes — a big increase from just four years ago.
In 2021, a survey published by the Action and Protection League (APL), a partner organization of the European Jewish Association (EJA), and conducted over two years, estimated that 20% of Europeans hold anti-Semitic views .
This all adds up to a general lack of knowledge about the Holocaust . As International Holocaust Remembrance Day marks January 27 – the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau – it is important to rethink how designed courses dealing with anti-Semitism and how the Holocaust is taught.
Beyond its study as a historical event, one should question its links with past and present anti-Semitism, which implies adapting to the current modes of information and life around the digital.
A toxic information landscape
The digital ecosystem in which current anti-Semitism thrives is a Wild West of information and disinformation posted by anyone and distributed in real time. Messages distributed on social networks and in news feeds are regularly filtered by algorithms that target the content users receive based on their profile, which can reinforce pre-existing beliefs.
According to a 2022 report by the United Nations , 17% of public TikTok content regarding the Holocaust denied it or misrepresented the story. The same goes for almost one in five Twitter messages on the subject and 49% of the content on Telegram.
If it can offer new educational resources, artificial intelligence also poses the threat of easily disseminated and unchecked disinformation. For example, character AI and Historical Figures Chat let you chat with historical figures , including Holocaust victims like Anne Frank or perpetrators of crimes like Joseph Goebbels , Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister.
These sites come with warnings that the characters’ answers may be made up and that users should verify their historical accuracy, but it’s easy to imagine how Internet users can be misled by these dialogues.
Deepfake videos are another potential danger to AI. Media experts warn of the risk of destabilization represented by this “degradation of the truth” , that is to say this lack of distinction between true and false, as this type of artificial content spreads . Holocaust scholars are gearing up to fight deepfakes ‘ manipulation of historical sources and educational materials. There are particular concerns that deepfakes are being used to rework and downplay survivor testimonies .
Much of my research focuses on contemporary approaches to Holocaust education – for example, the need to rethink the transmission of history as the number of survivors still able to testify is rapidly declining. Tackling a toxic information landscape is another fundamental challenge that requires innovative solutions.
As a first step, educators can promote media literacy , that is, the knowledge and skills needed to navigate and among and evaluate information online. It’s about teaching them to ask themselves who is the originator of a particular piece of information, what evidence is provided, and to investigate the authors of an unknown source by consulting what reputable websites say about it. This involves questioning the purpose of the source and reflecting on one’s own point of view. Finally, it is important to go back to the source or the original context of the quotations.
Applying these skills in a course on the Holocaust could focus on identifying the implicit stereotypes and misinformation that online sources rely on, and paying attention to the identity of these sources and their purpose. Courses may also analyze how social media enables Holocaust denial and study common formats of online antisemitism, such as deepfake videos , memes, and troll attacks.
Learning in the digital age
Holocaust scholars can also take advantage of new technologies, instead of just lamenting their pitfalls. For example, long after the death of survivors, they would make it possible to “converse” with them in museums and classrooms using specially recorded testimonies and language technologies . These programs can match a visitor’s questions with relevant parts of pre-recorded interviews.
Exploring their family tree , examining objects inherited from ancestors, and passing on stories over dinner often helps people make sense of who they are.
The same principle applies to society. The study of the past helps to understand how previous people and events have shaped present phenomena, including anti-Semitism. It is important for young people to understand that the horrific history of anti-Semitism began before the Holocaust. Leading students to reflect on how indifference and collaboration have fueled hate – or how everyday people have opposed it – can inspire them to speak out and engage against rising hatred. anti-Semitism.
Holocaust education is not a neutral enterprise. As survivor and scholar Elie Wiesel said upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim”.
Author Bio: Alan Marcus is Professor of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Connecticut