Yes, the Holocaust Happened, Even If a Top Google Search Result Says It Didn’t

We’re well into the back­lash cycle of the post-elec­tion out­rage over “fake news,” as com­men­ta­tor after com­men­ta­tor calls this phrase into ques­tion and cel­e­brates the fall of the gate­keep­er media. Tak­ing a phrase from Tom Wolfe, Matthew Con­tinet­ti at the con­ser­v­a­tive Com­men­tary argues that “the press… is a Vic­to­ri­an Gen­tle­man, the arbiter of man­ners and fash­ion, the judge of right con­duct and good breed­ing.” We should not lament this gentleman’s loss of a “lib­er­al, afflu­ent, enti­tled cocoon.” He had long ago “changed his job descrip­tion and went from telling his read­ers what had hap­pened to telling them what to think.”


Like­wise, The Inter­cept has shown how fake news pan­ic pro­duced a “McCarthyite Black­list of inde­pen­dent orga­ni­za­tions lumped togeth­er by “shod­dy, sloth­ful jour­nal­is­tic tac­tics” of the kind used by “smear artists” and ped­dlers of dis­in­for­ma­tion. Pol­i­tics aside, what we should at least gath­er from this firestorm is that the sto­ry of “fake news”—or of delib­er­ate hoax­es, lies, and propaganda—is much old­er than the Inter­net, though the speed at which it spreads has increased expo­nen­tial­ly with the dom­i­nance of social media. We’re left won­der­ing how we might reclaim some ori­en­ta­tion toward the truth in any media. If every­thing is poten­tial­ly fake news, what can we trust?

With the pro­fes­sion­al vet­ting of infor­ma­tion in cri­sis, we are thrown back on the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of Dar­win­ism advanced by “British defend­er of cap­i­tal­ism” Her­bert Spencer, who—writes Tim­o­thy Sny­der in his New York Times best­seller Black Earth: The Holo­caust as His­to­ry and Warn­ingdescribed the mar­ket as “an ecos­phere where the strongest and best sur­vived.” In our infor­ma­tion ecosys­tem, “strongest and best” is often deter­mined not by nat­ur­al forces, nor by expert adju­di­ca­tion of mer­it, but by algo­rithms… and cash. And as jour­nal­ists at The Inde­pen­dent and else­where dis­cov­ered last week, Google’s algo­rithms have decid­ed that the best, most help­ful answer to the ques­tion “did the holo­caust hap­pen?” comes from neo-Nazi hate site Storm­front, in a piece glibly titled “Top 10 rea­sons why the Holo­caust didn’t hap­pen.”

It should go with­out saying—and yet it must be said—that no seri­ous his­to­ri­an of the peri­od con­sid­ers the sys­tem­at­ic mass mur­der of mil­lions of Jews and oth­er “unde­sir­ables” to be an open his­tor­i­cal ques­tion. The hor­ror of the 30s and 40s, writes the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Muse­um, is “one of the best doc­u­ment­ed events in his­to­ry” and denials and dis­tor­tions of these events “are gen­er­al­ly moti­vat­ed by hatred of Jews.” (See their video explain­ing denial­ism at the top.) There’s no ques­tion that’s the motive in Google’s top search result for Holo­caust denial­ism. Google admits as much, writ­ing this past Mon­day, “We are sad­dened to see that hate orga­ni­za­tions still exist. The fact that hate sites appear in search results does not mean that Google endors­es these views.”

And yet, writes Car­ole Cad­wal­ladr at The Guardian, the search engine giant also “con­firmed it would not remove the result.” Cad­wal­ladr details how she dis­placed the top result her­self “with the only lan­guage that Google under­stands: mon­ey.” Lil­ian Black, the daugh­ter of a Holo­caust sur­vivor, com­pared the tech giant’s response to “say­ing we know that the trains are run­ning into Birke­nau, but we’re not respon­si­ble for what’s hap­pen­ing at the end of it.” But they should bear some respon­si­bil­i­ty. Google, she says, shapes “people’s think­ing… Can’t they see where this leads? And to have a huge world­wide orga­ni­za­tion refus­ing to acknowl­edge this. That’s what they think their role is? To be a bystander?”

The ques­tion forces us to con­front not only the role of the press but also the role of the new gate­keep­ers, Google, Face­book, Twit­ter, etc., who have dis­placed Vic­to­ri­an sys­tems of man­ag­ing infor­ma­tion and knowl­edge. The loss of sta­tus among aca­d­e­mics and pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ists and edi­tors may have salu­tary effects, such as a democ­ra­ti­za­tion of media and the emer­gence of cred­i­ble voic­es pre­vi­ous­ly con­fined to the mar­gins. But what can be done about the cor­re­spond­ing rise in delib­er­ate mis­in­for­ma­tion pub­lished by hate groups and pro­pa­gan­da orga­ni­za­tions? Moral con­sid­er­a­tions car­ry no weight when the fig­u­ra­tive “mar­ket­place of ideas” is reduced to the lit­er­al mar­ket.

Dan­ny Sul­li­van, a search engine expert Cad­wal­ladr cites, sug­gests that the rea­son the Storm­front result rose to the top of Google’s search may be noth­ing more than pop­ulism for prof­it: “Google has changed its algo­rithm to reward pop­u­lar results over author­i­ta­tive ones. For the rea­son that it makes Google more mon­ey.” The ris­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of hate sites presents a growth oppor­tu­ni­ty for Google and its com­peti­tors. Mean­while, racist hate groups spread their mes­sages unim­ped­ed, ordi­nary cit­i­zens are bad­ly mis­in­formed, and so-called “self-rad­i­cal­ized” indi­vid­u­als like mass killer Dylann Roof and Tom­my Mair—who mur­dered British MP Jo Cox this past sum­mer—con­tin­ue to find the “strongest and best” cas­es for their homi­ci­dal designs, no mat­ter that so much of the infor­ma­tion they con­sume is not only fake, but designed­ly, malev­o­lent­ly false.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

High School Teacher & Holo­caust Expert Sus­pend­ed for Draw­ing Par­al­lels Between Trump & Hitler’s Rhetoric

Mem­o­ry of the Camps (1985): The Holo­caust Doc­u­men­tary that Trau­ma­tized Alfred Hitch­cock, and Remained Unseen for 40 Years

The Touch­ing Moment When Nicholas Win­ton (RIP) Met the Chil­dren He Saved Dur­ing the Holo­caust

Rudolf Braz­da, Last Man to Wear the Pink Tri­an­gle Dur­ing the Holo­caust, Tells His Sto­ry

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (10)
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  • Brigham Narins says:

    Excel­lent post. This is such a valu­able site. Great work. Hap­py hol­i­days.

  • SkepticalPoet says:

    It appears Google is final­ly mak­ing some changes to fix this…

  • Fred says:

    Duck Duck Go top response is an answer, Yes. Storm­front is tenth on list and the first to actu­al­ly say no.

  • Adriana Braescu says:

    the holo­caust did hap­pen the prob­lem is that most of the peo­ple are focused on Hitler’s crimes and for­get or don’t even know about the “red holo­caust” — hun­dreds of mil­lions killed by com­mu­nists. My rel­a­tives were deport­ed in Siberia and killed by Stal­in regime — we are still wait­ing for a Nuren­berg for com­mu­nism, as well…

  • Bill W. says:

    12 mil­lion died under the Nazi-regime; how­ev­er, 6 mil­lion of them had fan­tas­tic post-war PR!

  • Ewa says:

    Thank you for shar­ing this — I will soooo dis­cuss it with my stu­dents!

  • Marc says:

    There is no ques­tion about the holo­caust hap­pen­ing or not. It did. And one of the rea­sons it was tol­er­at­ed to hap­pen was pro­pa­gan­da: the spread of false facts and the fil­ter­ing of infor­ma­tion. This last being the gate­keep­er’s main task.

    Mod­ern gate­keep­ers such as Google and Face­book are com­mer­cial enter­pris­es, seek­ing for prof­its. That is legit­i­mate. And we do know about it.

    The prob­lem here is, again, that peo­ple are not edu­cat­ed to take crit­i­cal views on infor­ma­tion. Not edu­cat­ed to make the effort it takes to put web­sites, blogs and news on the test-bench. As they were in Ger­many in the 30’s of last cen­tu­ry with news­pa­pers, radio and bill­boards.

    If Google shows the men­tioned holo­caust-deny­ing site at the top of the pop­u­lar­i­ty list, the prob­lem is not Google, the prob­lem is that it is pop­u­lar (“well liked by the peo­ple”).

  • Brigham Narins says:

    Bill W.: You should pause for a few moments and think about the rea­sons why your com­ment might be rep­re­hen­si­ble. No spe­cial read­ing required. Just reflec­tion.

  • Bill W. says:

    No prob­lem! Don’t mis­in­ter­pret the state­ment as being anti-Semit­ic’, how­ev­er. It was­n’t, just an uncom­fort­able truth, like the Holo­caust itself.

  • Bill W. says:

    I did. I’m com­fort­able with it.

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