Antonio Guterres said parts of the internet were turning into “toxic waste dumps for hate and vicious lies” that were driving “extremism from the margins to the mainstream”.
“Today, I am issuing an urgent appeal to everyone with influence across the information ecosystem,” Guterres said at a commemoration ceremony at the United Nations. “Stop the hate. Set up guardrails. And enforce them."”
He accused social media platforms and advertisers of profiting off the spread of hateful content.
“By using algorithms that amplify hate to keep users glued to their screens, social media platforms are complicit,” added Guterres. “And so are the advertisers subsidizing this business model.”
Guterres drew parallels with the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany, when people didn’t pay attention or protest.
“Today, we can hear echoes of those same siren songs to hate. From an economic crisis that is breeding discontent to populist demagogues using the crisis to seduce voters to runaway misinformation, paranoid conspiracy theories and unchecked hate speech.”
He lamented the rise of anti-Semitism, which he said also reflects a rise of all kinds of hate.
“And what is true for anti-Semitism is true for other forms of hate. Racism. Anti-Muslim bigotry. Xenophobia. Homophobia. Misogyny.”
QUARTER OF YOUNG DUTCH BELIEVE HOLOCAUST EXAGGERATED: STUDY
Dutch politicians reacted with shock Wednesday after a study showed almost a quarter of adults under 40 in the Netherlands believed the Holocaust was a myth or the number of deaths exaggerated.
The survey, done by the influential group Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany Conference in New York, found some 12% of respondents overall shared the same view.
Researchers said that 23% of Millennial and Generation Z respondents ‒ those born between the early 1980s and around 2010 ‒ thought the extermination of more than 6 million of Jews by the Nazis before and during World War II was a fallacy or overblown.
The findings “exposed a disturbing lack of awareness of key historical facts about the Holocaust and the Netherlands’ own connection to Holocaust history,” the Claims Conference group said.
“The numbers overall regarding denial and distortion are also higher compared to other countries we have surveyed,” added the group’s president Greg Schneider.
Other countries surveyed were Britain and Canada, where 9% of respondents overall held the same view, and Austria and France (10%).
Although 89% of 2,000 Dutch respondents knew of teenage diarist Anne Frank ‒ who hid from the Nazis with her family in a house in Amsterdam ‒ some 27% did not know she died at the Belsen concentration camp shortly before the war ended in 1945.
“I find it shocking,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said of the study’s findings.
“We can debate everything, but it’s important that we all agree on the facts,” he told the ANP national news agency.
“It is astonishing and extremely worrying that almost a quarter of Dutch young people question these facts,” tweeted Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra.
Dutch Education Minister Dennis Wiersma said “a stronger commitment is needed” in schools “to learn about the facts about WWII atrocities”.
Two-thirds of respondents said Holocaust education should be compulsory, and some 65% of all respondents believed that there was anti-Semitism in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands is still coming to terms with its role in the persecution of Jews almost 80 years after the end of World War II.
It opened a Holocaust memorial in Amsterdam in 2021, inscribed with the names of more than 102,000 Dutch Jews killed during the war.
Many Dutch citizens, along with the police and railway companies, actively collaborated with the German occupation to round up Jews and send them to concentration camps.
GERMAN PARLIAMENT SPOTLIGHTS NAZIS’ LGBTQ VICTIMS
The German parliament on Friday for the first time focused its annual Holocaust memorial commemorations on people persecuted and killed for their sexual or gender identity.
Campaigners worked for two decades to establish an official ceremony for LGBTQ victims of the Nazis, saying their experience had long been forgotten or marginalised.
“This group is important to me because it still suffers from discrimination and hostility,” Baerbel Bas, president of the Bundestag lower house, told AFP.
Germany has officially marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day ‒ the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation ‒ since 1996 with a solemn ceremony at the Bundestag and commemorations across the country.
The event traditionally focuses on the Holocaust’s 6 million Jewish victims, although, at the first ceremony, then president Roman Herzog did also pay tribute to gay men and lesbians murdered under Adolf Hitler.
Henny Engels of the German Lesbian and Gay Association rights group called Friday’s commemoration an “important symbol of recognition” of “the suffering and the dignity of the imprisoned, tortured and murdered victims”.
- Pink triangle -
Section 175 of Germany’s penal code outlawed sex between men.
Although it dated from 1871, it was rarely enforced and cities such as Berlin during the Weimar Republic had a thriving LGBTQ scene until the Nazis came to power.
In 1935 the Nazis toughened the law to carry a sentence of 10 years of forced labour.
Some 57,000 men were imprisoned, while between 6,000 and 10,000 were sent to concentration camps and given uniforms emblazoned with a pink triangle designating their sexuality.
Historians say between 3,000 and 10,000 gay men died and many were castrated or subjected to horrific “medical” experiments.
Thousands of lesbians, transgender people and sex workers were branded “degenerates” and also imprisoned at the camps under brutal conditions.
Dani Dayan, chairman of Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, said that while Jews were the Nazis’ primary target, he welcomed the broadening of Germany’s remembrance culture.
“The Holocaust was an onslaught against humanity: LGBTQ individuals, Roma and Sinti, mentally disabled persons, but especially against the Jewish people,” he told AFP on a visit to Berlin this week.
“We respect and we honour all the victims.”
The head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, agreed that while the main group of Holocaust victims were Jews, “they weren’t the only ones”.
“It shows that the developments seen in the Nazi period can lead to any societal group being targeted,” he told AFP.
- ‘Very late date’ -
Bas opened the ceremony at the glass-domed Reichstag building, followed by a speech from Dutch Jewish survivor Rozette Kats.
Kats, 80, lived out the Holocaust as a toddler in hiding in Amsterdam with adoptive parents while her own mother and father were killed at Auschwitz.
Actors will read texts about two LGBTQ victims who “exemplify” the fate of queer people under Hitler, Bas said.
Klaus Schirdewahn, who was convicted in 1964 over a sexual relationship with another man under a Nazi-era law still on the books, will also tell his story to the chamber.
Bas regretted that there were no LGBTQ survivors of the Nazi period left to address parliament, and noted that gay men, lesbians and transgender people still faced state persecution even decades after the war.
“We will draw attention at the ceremony to the so-called ’gay laws’ which were only lifted at a very late date,” she said.
“By the time there were reparations, many (victims) were no longer alive.”
In 2017, parliament voted to quash the convictions of 50,000 gay men sentenced for homosexuality under Section 175, which remained in force after the war, and offered compensation to victims.
In 2002, a new law overturned their convictions but did not include post-war prosecutions.
Section 175 was finally dropped from the penal code in East Germany in 1968.
In West Germany, it reverted to the pre-Nazi era version in 1969 and was only fully repealed in 1994.
RUSSIA NOT INVITED TO CEREMONY MARKING AUSCHWITZ LIBERATION: MUSEUM
The Auschwitz museum said Wednesday that because of the war in Ukraine Russia will be excluded from the upcoming ceremony marking 78 years since the Red Army liberated the Nazi death camp.
“Given the aggression against a free and independent Ukraine, representatives of the Russian Federation have not been invited to attend this year’s commemoration,” Piotr Sawicki, spokesman for the museum at the site of the former camp, told AFP.
Friday is the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp built by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland ‒ a date that has become Holocaust Memorial Day.
Until now, Russia has always taken part in the commemoration held every year on January 27, with its delegate speaking at the main ceremony.
Museum director Piotr Cywinski said it was obvious that he could “sign no letter to the Russian ambassador having an inviting tone” in the current context.
“I hope that will change in the future but we have a long way to go,” he said, according to the PAP news agency.
“Russia will need an extremely long time and very deep self-examination after this conflict in order to return to gatherings of the civilised world.”
The museum denounced the Russian offensive as a “barbaric act” on the day Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year.
Auschwitz-Birkenau has become a symbol of Nazi Germany’s genocide of 6 million European Jews, 1 million of whom died at the camp between 1940 and 1945 along with more than 100,000 non-Jews.
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