UN: Parts of internet becoming `toxic waste dumps’ for hate

Jan 26, 2023, 11:49 PM | Updated: Jan 27, 2023, 1:57 pm
Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General, center, Dani Dayan, Chairman of Yad Vashem, lef...

Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General, center, Dani Dayan, Chairman of Yad Vashem, left, and Gilad Erdan, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, right, walk along the Yad Vashem Book of Names of Holocaust Victims Exhibit, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. chief warned on the day to remember victims of the Holocaust that “many parts of the internet are becoming toxic waste dumps for hate and vicious lies,” and urgently appealed for guardrails against hate speech.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that anti-Semitism is everywhere, and it’s increasing in intensity.

“And what is true for anti-Semitism is true for other forms of hate — racism, anti-Muslim bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny,” he added.

He said at the annual U.N. ceremony marking the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust that “neo-Nazi, white supremacist movements are becoming more dangerous by the day.”

They represent the top 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 just facing extremism, but it is increasingly facing terrorism, and the threat is growing.

“And a leading accelerant of this growth is the online world,” he told hundreds of people in the vast 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 to 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 subsidizing this business model.”

The U.N. chief urged “everyone with influence across the information ecosystem” — information regulators, policymakers, technology companies, the media, civil society and governments — to “stop the hate.”

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

He said regulations must clarify responsibility and improve transparency.

The U.N. commemoration began with a moment of silence for the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis as well as other minorities killed in the Holocaust — Roma and Sinti, disabled people, 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 connivance — of so many millions,”

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

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

General Assembly President Csaba Korösi echoed the secretary-general, saying that “the hate that made the Holocaust possible continues to fester online.”

He pointed to pop culture leaders with millions of online followers “making anti-Semitic remarks and spewing hate.”

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

“With conflicts, wars and atrocity crimes that continue to devastate nations and communities, we have to push back against the tsunamis of disinformation crashing about the internet,” Korösi said. “This is a responsibility that must be translated into action.”

Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, accused the U.N. of not backing up its words with actions “to combat bigotry” and rising anti-Semitism.

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

Jacques Grishaver, a Jew who was born in Amsterdam in March 1942 and survived the Holocaust because he was hidden with his grandfather by a woman who was not Jewish, told the commemoration that most members of his family were murdered.

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

“And that fight is still necessary today,” Grishaver said. “Anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head all over the world, even in the Dutch parliament where xenophobic nationalists are allied with propagators of insidious conspiracy theories.”

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

As part of the Dutch committee’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 designed by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind was unveiled in Amsterdam in September 2021.

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

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

After Grishaver spoke, Cantor Nissim Saal sang El Maleh Rachamim, the Jewish prayer pleading for the souls of the departed to be granted eternal peace.

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UN: Parts of internet becoming `toxic waste dumps’ for hate