Legalising Holocaust denial 2.0

More and more right-wing extremist agitators are cavorting on “Telegram”, who do not even shy away from calls to murder Jews. But there must no longer be a lawless space on the internet for spreading hatred and agitation and for calls for acts of violence.

“The Jews are not human beings, they are rats.”

“The Holocaust is a gigantic war lie of the Jew who won both wars!” “As long as there are Jews, there will be wars between the peoples!”

Whoever spreads such hate slogans must expect criminal prosecution in all EU countries. This must also apply to media and platforms that disseminate such content.

But the platform “Telegram”, which claims to be a mere “messenger service” and claims to publish content only in the spirit of free expression, offers round-the-clock digital space for the dissemination of such hate slogans and for calls for acts of violence.

It also allows the German Holocaust denier Attila Hildmann, who fled to Turkey, to spread anti-Semitic hate messages quoted above to his followers, who now number over 110,000. I find it intolerable and scandalous that such and similar right-wing extremist content is apparently allowed to be disseminated in Europe without judicial consequences.

Yet both EU states and the European Union have committed themselves against calls for violence and the spreading of hate on the internet. The Federal Republic of Germany even led the way by tightening the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG). But platforms intended for “individual communication or the dissemination of specific content” are excluded from its scope (§ 1 para.1 NetzDG).

“Telegram” continues to pretend that it does not fall under the provisions of such legal requirements. Admittedly, this legalises a mockery of the victims of the Holocaust in 2021 – often supplemented by open calls for violence against Jews.

In a letter to the German Minister of the Interior, Horst Seehofer, I asked him to demand that those responsible for “Telegram” immediately delete such content and remove persons and organisations that promote violence and support hate speech.

In fact, “Europol” has very recently cooperated with “Telegram” officials to block or remove accounts and channels linked to the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) and Islamist terror propaganda. This has subsequently also made the recruitment of IS supporters more difficult in the long term.

It is high time that similar measures are implemented in the far-right sector to remove individuals or organisations that promote and support far-right violence from “Telegram”.

At the end of 2020, the American-British “Institute for Strategic Dialogue” (ISD) reported that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, extremists from Germany, Austria and Switzerland were able to recruit more followers on the internet. “Especially on alternative platforms like “Telegram”, the channels of right-wing extremism grew,” the report says.

The 2019 Global Terrorism Index also found that in the past five years, cases of far-right attacks have more than tripled worldwide. In addition, serious terrorist attacks have been perpetrated by individuals who had only a loose connection to terror groups but were incited to commit such acts by propaganda networks on social media. One example is the young Muslim Kujtim F., who killed four people and injured 23 others, some seriously, in a rampage in Vienna’s city centre on 2 November 2020.

Although the terms of use of “Telegram” also prohibit calls to violence, enforcement by administrators seems to be extremely poor. Unlike other platforms, “Telegram” invokes freedom of expression and emphasises that it does not have to abide by “local restrictions on freedom of expression”. As a result, “Telegram” has become a safe space for right-wing extremists.

Founded in 2013 by the Russian brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov, 500 million people worldwide now use the services of “Telegram”. According to the homepage, the development team is located in Dubai, and previously also in locations such as London, Berlin, Singapore and St. Petersburg. Since secret chats between terminals are also possible, this service is also popular among criminals and supporters of conspiracy theories of all kinds. After the storm on the US Capitol at the beginning of this year, millions of Trump supporters switched from the blocked platforms such as “Parler” to “Telegram”.

The World Jewish Congress, which has also taken action against the accumulation of anti-Semitic short videos on the Chinese platform TikTok, calls on all governments to oblige those responsible for “Telegram” to take action against inflammatory campaigns, to immediately delete calls for violence and to remove accounts of individuals and organisations that promote and support violence. For Holocaust deniers and supporters of violence and terror, there must be no more lawless space on the internet.

*Maram Stern, born in Berlin in 1955, has been Executive Vice President of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) since 2019. Among other things, he is responsible for dialogue with Christian churches and other religions.

Maram Stern