What the Holocaust Teaches Us About A Free Internet

FILE - The file picture taken just after the liberation by the Soviet army in January, 1945 shows a group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms including Martha Weiss who was ten years-old, 6th from right, at the time behind barbed wire fencing in the Oswiecim (Auschwitz) Nazi concentration camp. The German government has agreed to provide additional financial assistance for child survivors of the Holocaust, who are suffering increasing problems associated with malnutrition and psychological trauma when they were young. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany said the agreement reached with the Finance Ministry late Wednesday, Sept 3, 2014 would provide one-time payments of 2,500 euros (US$ 3,280) for Jewish children who were in concentration camps, ghettos or spent at least six months in hiding. (AP Photo)

Today was International Holocaust Remembrance Day and CNN had an interesting piece from the mouth of a survivor in which the subject, a gentleman by the name of Manfred Goldberg, who spent time in several different labor camps in German-occupied Poland, expresses his fear of hatred being propagated online.

“Instant communication now means that any single person who wants to propagate his race hatred-infected views can do so much, much, much more effectively than the Nazis back then could ever do,” he says.

“Many years before they gained political power the Nazis initiated and maintained a vicious anti-Semitic propaganda campaign against Jews mainly by the printed word but also by speech railing against Jews at mass meetings.

“They did so in the belief that any lie, no matter how vile or abhorrent, would eventually be accepted as truth if it was repeated often enough and powerfully enough.

“Unfortunately, they were proved correct. The result, as we know, was the Holocaust. And what worries me, tremendously, is that in the name of the freedom of speech, we appear to ignore this lesson of history.”

His words are not to be taken lightly, of course. And his fears are well founded. There is an uncomfortable amount of vitriol online and it can leave one, after spending a day scrolling past it, worried and depressed about the state of humanity.

However, after reading Mr. Goldberg’s story (and I encourage everyone reading this to do so), I remembered this tweet from earlier in the day:

And, with hopes of forgiveness from Mr. Goldberg, I think there’s more to the story of all that free speech — as distasteful as some of it is — than just the propagation of hate. Eisenhower’s insistence on being photographed at the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps was born of his understanding of human nature: that if we fail to be reminded, even (and especially) if the information is terrible to behold — we will choose to forget. There are some things that are simply too painful to remember.

Which is a great argument for making sure that the modes of communication as they move more and more onto the rapidly-paced medium of online communication, remain open to all voices, good and bad.

There’s an argument to be made that the exposure of the hate that lives out there in some people’s hearts is crucial in making sure we remember to fight it, every day if necessary. And it’s backed up by efforts in both Iran and Venezuela to clamp down on the free and open exchange of ideas online because both of those regimes know their biggest enemies are the people living under them telling the truth about what goes on.

That’s why efforts to “shadow ban” some voices on platforms like Twitter, or attempts by tech giants like Google to squelch voices they simply disagree with, run counter to ensuring that we have all the information we need to make sure we remember how cruel the world can be.

And if we want to make sure we never find ourselves again shocked by news of a Final Solution and crying in shame and pain over the images of mass graves and starving children, we must remember.

And we must face the hate.