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UN: Parts of the internet are becoming ‘toxic waste dumps’ for hate


UNITED NATIONS – The UN chief on the day to remember the victims of the Holocaust warned that “many parts of the internet are becoming toxic dumps for hatred and vicious lies,” and called for guardrails against hate speech.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that anti-Semitism is everywhere and growing in intensity.

“And what applies to anti-Semitism also applies to other forms of hatred – racism, intolerance against Muslims, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny,” he added.

He said at the UN’s annual International Day of Remembrance Day ceremony in memory of the victims of the Holocaust that “neo-Nazi, white supremacist movements are becoming more dangerous by the day.”

They are the biggest internal security threat in several countries, Guterres said, and have targeted synagogues, mosques, refugee centers and stores from Christchurch, New Zealand, to Buffalo, New York, to El Paso, Texas, to Oslo, Norway.

The Secretary-General warned that the world is not only dealing with extremism, but also increasingly with terrorism, and the threat is increasing.

“And a major accelerator of this growth is the online world,” he told hundreds of people in the massive General Assembly Hall and many others watching around the world.

Guterres said many parts of the internet have become “profit-driven catalysts for moving extremism from the margins into the mainstream.”

“By using algorithms that amplify hate to keep users glued to their screens, social media platforms are complicit,” he said. “And so are the advertisers who subsidize this business model.”

The UN chief urged “everyone with influence in the information ecosystem” – information regulators, policymakers, technology companies, the media, civil society and governments – to “stop the hate”.

“Put up guardrails and enforce them,” Guterres said.

He said regulations should clarify accountability and improve transparency.

The UN commemoration began with a moment of silence for the 6 million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis and for other minorities who died in the Holocaust – Roma and Sinti, the disabled, Germans of African descent, homosexuals, Soviet prisoners of war, political dissidents and others.

Guterres said the Nazi Party came to power in Germany 90 years ago and virulent anti-Semitism became official government policy because of “the indifference — if not complicity — of so many millions.”

This led to the murder of nearly two-thirds of Europe’s Jews by the end of World War II, he said.

“Today we can hear echoes of those same siren songs to hate,” Guterres said.

The President of the Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, echoed the Secretary General, saying that “the hatred that enabled the Holocaust continues to circulate online”.

He pointed to pop culture leaders with millions of online followers who “make anti-Semitic remarks and incite hatred.”

There are clear links between extremist ideologies spreading hate online and their real-world consequences that can no longer be ignored, he said.

“With conflicts, wars and atrocities continuing to devastate nations and communities, we must stand against the tsunamis of disinformation crashing across the internet,” Kőrösi said. “This is a responsibility that must be turned into action.”

Israel’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, accused the UN of failing to back up its words with actions “to combat bigotry” and rising anti-Semitism.

“I beg you that our words are also followed by actions today,” he said. “The UN … must take a stand against anti-Semitism rather than let it fester and mutate into violence.”

Jacques Grishaver, a Jew who was born in Amsterdam in March 1942 and who survived the Holocaust because he and his grandfather were hidden by a non-Jewish woman, told at the memorial that most members of his family were murdered.

When he became chairman of the Dutch Outreach Committee in 1998, he promised the founders to keep fighting anti-Semitism “with every fiber of my being,” he said.

“And that fight is still needed today,” Grishaver said. “Antisemitism is surfacing all over the world, even in the Dutch parliament where xenophobic nationalists unite with purveyors of insidious conspiracy theories.”

He said churches that propagate nationalist sentiments have become “a dangerous breeding ground for the pursuit of ethnic purity”.

As part of the Dutch commission’s campaign to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and educate a new generation about the dangers of exclusion and discrimination, Grishaver said a national Holocaust memorial will be unveiled in Amsterdam in September 2021 , designed by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind.

More than 102,000 murdered Jews – including his relatives – and 220 murdered Roma and Sinti “have regained their name and a place in the world in the heart of the Dutch capital,” he said.

Those names should serve as a reminder of “never again” for people today and generations to come, he said.

After Grishaver spoke, Cantor Nissim sang Saal El Maleh Rachamim, the Jewish prayer that implored the souls of the departed to gain eternal peace.

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