Holocaust forum looks at social media's role in antisemitism

This photo shows the mobile phone app logos for Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp (Richard Drew, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

COPENHAGEN – Participants at a Holocaust remembrance conference in Sweden blamed social media Wednesday for contributing to a global rise in antisemitism, while YouTube and Facebook officials pledged to be part of the solution.

Government and social media representatives attending the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance in Malmo vowed to crack down on hate speech, disinformation and the denial of facts both online and off. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the company is “now removing 15 times more hate speech than we were just five years ago. And we are not going to stop.”

The head of the European Union's executive arm, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called Holocaust denial and antisemitism “a threat to Jewish people, but it is also a poison for our democracies, our values and our open societies.”

From Brussels, von der Leyen said the 27-nation EU plans to create “a network of young European ambassadors for Holocaust remembrance." She added: "Who is in a better position to teach the lessons of the Shoah to their peers than our young?”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was allocating $1 million to counter online antisemitic hate speech in the Mideast and North Africa. Washington also has started “an expanded series of international visitor leadership programs" to confront Holocaust distortion and antisemitism in North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America, he said.

“Our priorities include condemning and countering antisemitism, ensuring physical security for Jewish communities, supporting Holocaust education, especially for young people, protecting religious freedom and urging countries to commit more deeply to the fight against hate speech online,” Blinken said in a video message.

Pedro Pina, head of YouTube in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, said the video sharing platform owned by Google pledged more than 5 million euros ($5.8 million).

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, the event's host, said other pledges included new memorial sites, museums and educational programs dedicated to preserving the history of the Holocaust and the mass killings of Roma. And he said the one-day conference was “by no means the end of the road."

“On the contrary, this is a powerful relaunch of the work to combat antisemitism, anti Roma-ism and other forms of racism,” Lofven said." The real work starts now. It’s now that our pledges must be turned into concrete action.”

Presidents Isaac Herzog of Israel and Emmanuel Macron of France participated remotely, with the latter addressing the assembly in a prerecorded video message.

The first International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance was held in Stockholm in 2000. International leaders urged all countries at the time to open secret government files on Nazi Germany's extermination campaign, a genocide that killed 6 million European Jews.

Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, said during a news conference Wednesday that Jewish organizations "want governments to start making laws against putting hate on the internet."

“We will fight and fight that struggle, and we’re not to be silenced," Lauder said. "Silence is what makes antisemitism grow.”