At the rotunda of the capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, legislators and citizens attended the official Holocaust commemoration for the state of Michigan on Wednesday. Headlining the event was award-winning author Edwin Black, who spoke about the dangers posed by new technologies used by Facebook and Google that threaten to drown out voices and effectively rewrite history. Also present at the ceremony were more than 50 survivors of the horrors of Nazi racism and anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 40s.
Thursday marks the annual observance of Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah -- Hebrew for the ‘Day of the Holocaust and the Heroism’ - which always falls on 27th day of the month of Nissan, and thus varies in its observance in April or May according to the Gregorian calendar.
Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, observed, “On this remembrance day, there’s a reason why we talk about remembrance instead of the concept of not forgetting. Not forgetting is passive, but remembrance is active.” Referring to the stories of faith and deliverance recounted by Holocaust survivors to those who did not witness the persecution, Calley said, “...it becomes real because of the stories you are sharing with us.”
In his address, titled “The challenge of legacy,” Black -- the son of two Holocaust survivors from Poland -- said at the outset of his remarks, “I have come not only to mourn, but to warn our world.” He said that “torments and tribulations” of the wider world are just over the horizon “like an unstoppable tsunami preparing to crash.” Black said, “Many of us, historians and survivors, in the Jewish community and the human rights world recall the dark past, hoping to immunize our future from the maniacal and ideological fires that immolated 6 million Jews and so many others, and left the world’s hands and souls smoke-singed.”
Black recalled that the Holocaust was unique among the cruelties of world history because it happened in broad daylight and in the dead of night while German propaganda advertised it to the world, “that bled across the front pages of newspapers, crackled in regular radio reports, flickered in newsreels…The world knew.”
“Make no mistake: the Nazis and Hitler did it. But they had help,” said Black, who then reminded listeners that Henry Ford and the Ford-controlled Dearborn Independent newspaper were frequently quoted by Adolf Hitler. “Nazism was driven by the American pseudoscience of eugenics that called for the elimination and even the chamber-gassing of so-called inferior groups.” Black also spoke to the involvement of General Motors in developing Nazi vehicles and aircraft, adding, “And it was up to IBM -- the solutions company -- to organize all six phases of the Holocaust: identification, exclusion, asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and extermination.” He said that profit was the ally of the perpetrators of the Holocaust. “For some, the clatter of coins could drown out the screams of the victims.”
Black warned, “Today we know more about how we came here. But how many truly understand where we are? Do not believe that the Holocaust is a mere scar.” He said that it has erupted again, and cited the examples of Yazidis and Christians persecuted and murdered by Muslim extremists in the Middle East, and the slaughter of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda.
Asking rhetorically whether the new, visible enemies merely those who don white sheets or Nazi symbolism, Black said, “Less visible are the new less-invisible enemy of enlightenment and the enemy of the purifying spotlight.” He named the enemies as Facebook, Google, Amazon and many more “whose misguided algorithms decide what will be seen and what will be shuttered.”
These rise to a level of censorship, Black said, that could not be imagined by George Orwell -- the author of the dystopian novel “1984.” Citing as examples, he noted that Amazon now bans the sale of history books on its platform outside of North America that bear the image of the Nazi swastika. His book, Nazi Nexus -- which recounts the involvement of U.S. corporations with the horrors of Nazi Germany -- has been required to change its cover. In addition, a Facebook account was cautioned for featuring the photograph of a book bearing a Nazi symbol.
Other examples of tech censorship that Black mentioned included so-called “zombie” accounts on Twitter, whose users are made to believe that they are communicating with the world but are instead effectively “muffled” by simple programs imposed by Twitter and related platforms.
Referring to laws recently passed in Poland and Lithuania that restrict speech concerning the involvement of the respective countries in the Holocaust, Black warned that social media platforms such as Google and Facebook may soon. “These laws will be used by misguided programmers in Silicon Valley to avoid liability by simply and quietly shutting down the history.”
Speaking to Spero News, Black said, "We must fight back against the electronic ghetto, the digital ghetto, and the algorithm ghetto. This is the new Challenge of Legacy."
Facebook, Zuckerberg, and Congress
On April 6, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced steps he is taking to eliminate anonymity on the platform. He announced that Facebook will “require people who manage large pages to be verified,” thus requiring users to provide their real names and locations to Facebook, and possibly to the federal government. Zuckerberg added his company will hire thousands of additional censors and “security” personnel. “In order to require verification for all of these pages and advertisers, we will hire thousands of more people,” he wrote.
In his second day of testimony on Capitol Hill, Zuckerberg told senators that every statement made by Facebook’s 2.2 billion users is analyzed, vetted by artificial intelligence (AI) systems, and then reviewed by 20,000 censors. If Facebook decides that any statement by a user is “sensational” or “divisive,” the user will be flagged as a “bad actor.” The user’s posts could be blocked, reported to the government, or both.