The Holocaust was one of the most terrible acts of mass slaughter the world has ever known. Historians around the world have reached a consensus as to what, broadly speaking, took place. The Nazi German regime led by Hitler systematically murdered 6,000,000 Jews, as well as countless Roma, Slavs, homosexuals, and dissidents. Yet while the historical establishment is in agreement, a small fringe element of Holocaust deniers still exists in many countries around the world, with membership in some countries in the thousands. Because they are often curtailed in the public forum, by law in some cases and general social disgust in others, the internet has become the primary meeting place for Holocaust deniers, and their primary mode of promulgating their message. Holocaust denial is clearly a popular subject on the internet; it is the seventh most popular google search term related to the holocaust and a search returns millions of results.
A debate is currently raging in many countries about whether giving a platform to these Holocaust deniers serves to strengthen their cause or to diminish it. For example, Holocaust denial has been illegal in Germany since 1985, and since 1994 there has been a maximum penalty of five years in jail for anyone who publically endorses, denies or downplays the holocaust. In 2000 the federal supreme court ruled that German law banning holocaust denial material online should apply to material posted by foreigners who post content if the material is accessible in Germany. France also has legislation dealing with holocaust denial with the 1990 Gayssot law and is attempting to expand it to cover other genocides such as the Armenian Genocide. To show how far this can be taken in 2000 French citizens were barred from web sites that sold Nazi memorabilia. Many universities have come down on either side of this debate, some allowing deniers to speak in their institutions, while other have adopted strict no-platform policies.
In all this debate sits the question of the role of the state in dealing with Holocaust denial as a phenomenon both of speech and act. This debate will examine the arguments of the proponents of bans on web access to Holocaust deniers, specifically that by denying Holocaust deniers access to websites, their primary mode of networking and organizing the state can serve to decrease the amount of discussion on this issue within society, as well as the opposition which argues that such a denial is a repudiation of the fundamental human rights of free speech and freedom of assembly, and that no matter how disgusting their rhetoric may be, the Holocaust deniers are still citizens and deserve to have their rights to speech, expression and assembly defended. Some on this side claim also that by giving them this platform they can be better confronted and brought low through debate and discourse.
The sides are vigorously opposed, with no solution to satisfy all in sight.
 Holocaust Encyclopedia, “Introduction to the Holocaust”, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 11 May 2012, http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005143
 Darnell, Scott, “Measuring Holocaust Denial in the United States”, Harvard Kennedy School, May 2010, http://www.hks.harvard.edu/ocpa/pdf/HolocaustDenialPAE.pdf
 Dahmann, Klaus. “No Room for Holocaust denial in Germany”. Deutsche Welle. 23 December 2005. http://www.dw.de/no-room-for-holocaust-denial-in-germany/a-1833619-1
 OpenNet Initiative, 'Europe', opennet.net, https://opennet.net/research/regions/europe
Denial of the Holocaust is fundamentally hate speech. It is the duty of the government to deny these offensive beliefs a platform of any kind. By blocking these sites, the government denies a certain freedom of speech, but it is a necessarily harmful form of speech that has no value in the market place of ideas. Many people, often Jews, but also members of other discriminated against minorities like Roma, suffer directly from the speech, feeling not only offended, but physically threatened by such denials. Holocaust denial however goes beyond hate speech because it is not only offensive but factually wrong. The attempt to rewrite history and to sow lies causes a threat to the truth and an ability to co-opt the participation of gullible individuals to their cause that mere insults and demagoguery could not. It represents a threat to education by undermining the value of facts and evidence. For this reason, there is essentially no real loss of valuable speech in censoring the sites denying the Holocaust.
 Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. New York: Free Press, 1993.
Denying Holocaust-denier their right to speak is a threat to everyone’s freedom of speech. It is essential in a free society that people be able to express their views without fear of reprisal. As Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. As the facts are against the Holocaust deniers their opponents should have no fear of engaging them in open discussion as they will be able to demonstrate how erroneous their opponents are.
The internet is the center of discourse and public life in the 21st century. With the advent of social networks, people around the world live more and more online. Unlike any other kind of hateful speech that might flourish on the internet, Holocaust denial stands apart. This is due firstly to the particular mark that the Holocaust has made on the collective consciousness of western civilization as the ultimate act of human evil and depravity. The Holocaust is now a defining part of Jewish identity, denying it attacks all those who suffered and their decedents. Allowing Holocaust denial websites is allowing the rejection of groups’ very identity. Thus its apologists do far more harm than any troll, misogynist, or even apologist of other atrocities. For this reason, the government can justifiably censor sites promoting these absolutely offensive beliefs while not falling down any sort of slippery slope. The second reason Holocaust denial stands apart from other sorts of internet abuse is that these sites are often flashpoints for violence materializing in the real world. More than just talk, neo-Nazis seek dangerous action, and thus the state should be doubly ready to remove this threat from the internet. Accepting that Holocaust deniers have a point that should be articulated across the internet would be helping these neo-nazi groups gain a foothold. The particularly grievous nature of the Holocaust demands the protection of history to the utmost.
The internet is a flourishing place for discourse because it is absolutely free to all, and everyone accepts and experiences the fruit of that freedom. When the government abandons its stance of neutrality and begins censoring materials, even if it begins only with the nastiest examples, it compromises the copper-fastened liberties that the internet was created to furnish. Many people will abuse that tool, but thankfully people can evade the hate sites easily and never have to experience them without compromising their own freedoms by censoring their opponents.
When the internet places no moral judgments on content, and the gatekeepers let all information through on equal footing, it lends an air of legitimacy that these beliefs have a voice, and that they are held by reasonable people. This legitimacy is enhanced by the anonymity of the internet where deniers can pose as experts and downplay their opponents’ credentials. While the internet is a wonderful tool for spreading knowledge, it can also be subverted to disseminate misinformation. Holocaust deniers have been able to use the internet to a remarkable extent in promoting pseudoscience and pseudo-history that have the surface appearance of credibility. Compounding this further, the administrators of these sites are able to choke of things like dissenting commenters, giving the illusion that their view is difficult, or even impossible to reasonably challenge. They thus create an echo chamber for their ideas that allows them to spread and to affect people, particularly young people susceptible to such manipulation. By denying these people a platform on the internet, the government is able to not only make a moral stance that is unequivocal, but also to choke off access to new members who can be saved by never seeing the negative messages.
 Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. New York: Free Press, 1993.
While it is true that Holocaust deniers spread misinformation and seek to undermine and bend the systems of discourse to be as favorable as possible, they are a tiny fringe minority of opinion, and the number of sites debunking their pseudo-history is far greater than that of the actual deniers. Even young people are able to surf the web with great skill, and can easily see that the Holocaust denial position is fringe in the extreme.
The greatest fear with hate groups is not just their hateful rhetoric online, but also their ability to take harmful action in the real world. When Holocaust deniers are able to set up standard websites, they have the ability to mobilize action on the ground. This means coordinating rallies, as well as acts of hooliganism and violence. One need only look at the sort of organization the Golden Dawn, a neo-fascist Greek party, has been able to develop in part through active use of social media and websites. By capitalizing on the tools of the 21st century these thugs have succeeded in bringing sympathizers to their cause, often geographically diffuse, into a tight-knit community capable of action and disruption that harms all citizens, but particularly the minority groups they are presently fixated upon. By utilizing social media and websites Holocaust deniers have gained a new lease on life. The government can significantly hamper these organizations from taking meaningful actions, and from coalescing in the first place by denying them their favored and most effective platform.
 Savaricas, Nathalie, “Greece’s neo-fascists are on the rise... and now they’re going into schools: How Golden Dawn is nurturing the next generation”, The Independent, 2 February 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/greeces-neofascists-are-on-the-rise-and-now-theyre-going-into-schools-how-golden-dawn-is-nurturing-the-next-generation-8477997.html
Holocaust deniers will always find ways to organize, be it in smaller pockets of face-to-face contact, clandestine social networking, or untraceable black sites online that governments cannot shut down because they cannot find them. The result of blocking these views from the public internet only serves to push their proponents further underground and to make them take less public strategies on board. Ultimately, it is a cosmetic, not substantive solution.
No matter how unpalatable their opinions may be, everyone should have the right to voice them. The very core of a free society is the right to express one’s mind freely, without hindrance from the state. When the state presumes to judge good speech from bad, and to shut off the channel by which the designated bad speech may flow, it abrogates its duty to its citizens. The government does this by presuming to make value judgments on kinds of speech, and thus empowering itself, and not the people, to be the final arbiter of acceptable speech. Such a state of affairs is anathema to the continuation of a free society. With free speech the all sides will get to voice their views and those whose opinions have most evidence will win out so there is no need for censorship as the marketplace of ideas will prevent ideas without sufficient evidence from having an impact. Furthermore, the particular speech in question is extremely fringe, and is for that reason a very unusual one to be seeking to silence. Speech can be legally curtailed only when there is a very real and manifest harm. But that is not the case here, where the participants are few and scattered, and those who would take exception to what the Holocaust deniers have to say can easily opt out online.
Freedom of speech certainly may be curtailed when there is a real harm manifested from it. Holocaust denial, in its refusal to acknowledge one of the most barbaric acts in human history and attempt to justify terrible crimes, is an incredibly dehumanizing force, one that many people suffer from, even if they do not need to read it themselves. We may have the freedom to express ourselves but that does not mean we have the freedom to make up our own facts. The threat Holocaust deniers represent to free society demands that their right to speech online be curtailed.
The internet is a free market of ideas in which all beliefs can be submitted to the whole of the online community and then put to criticism and judgment. In the same way irrational beliefs like Creationism first found purchase on the internet only to be undermined and discredited by the efforts of online activists, so too have Holocaust deniers been forced by their presence on the web to justify their beliefs and submit evidence for scrutiny. In so doing the online community has systematically discredited the deniers and undermined their efforts at recruitment. By taking on a stance of net neutrality in the provision of internet and the blocking of sites, governments allow this process to play out and for the free exchange of ideas on which liberal democratic society is built upon to show its strength. A neutral stance upholds the highest principles of the state, and allows people to feel safe in the veracity and representativeness of the internet content they are provided.
 Seythal, T. “Holocaust Denier Sentenced to Five Years”. The Washington Post. 15 February 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/15/AR2007021501283.html
Taking a neutral stance is a tacit endorsement of the validity of the message being spread as being worthy of discussion. Holocaust denial does not deserve its day in the sun, even if the outcome were a thumping victory for reason and truth. Besides, the Holocaust deniers are not convinced by reason or argument. Their beliefs are impervious to facts, which is why debate is a pointless exercise except to give them a platform by which to spread their message, organize, and legitimize themselves in the marketplace of ideas.
By denying people the ability to access sites set up by Holocaust deniers the government serves only to increase their mystique and thus the demand to know more about the movement and its beliefs. When the state opposes something so vociferously that it is willing to set aside the normal freedoms people have come to expect as granted, many people begin to take greater notice. There are always groups of individuals that wish to set themselves up as oppositional to the norms of society, to be transgressive in behavior and thus challenge the entrenched system. When something like Holocaust denial is given that rare mystique of extreme transgression, it serves to encourage people, particularly young, rebellious people to seek out the group and even join it. This has been the case for neo-Nazism in Germany. In Germany Holocaust denial is illegal, yet it has one of the liveliest communities of neo-Nazis in Europe. Their aggressive attacks have only served to boost the movement’s mystique and many have flocked to its banner. By allowing free expression and debate, many people would be saved from joining the barbaric organizations that promote the lies of Holocaust denial.
 Gottfried, Ted. Deniers of the Holocaust: Who They Are, What They Do, Why They Do It. Brookfield, CT: Twenty-First Century Books, 2001.
While some people might be enticed by the mystique of Holocaust deniers as transgressors, far more people will be put off by the firm hand of the state denying them a powerful platform from which to speak. Even if some are enticed these individuals will find it much more difficult to access the information they seek and so only the most determined will ultimately be influenced. Some Holocaust deniers will always lurk in the shadows, but society should show no quarter in the battle for truth.
A major risk with any extremist organization is that its members, when put under significant legal pressure, will go underground. For example The Pirate Bay, a major bittorrent file sharing website, simply moved to cloud hosting providers around the world to prevent it being shut down. The power of the state to actually stop the development of neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier networks is extremely limited, as they will be able still to organize in secret, or even semi-publicly, via social networks and hidden websites. While their visible profile would be diminished, it would not guarantee any positive gains in terms of stamping down on their numbers. Indeed, when they no longer use public channels it will be ever harder for the government to keep track of their doings and of their leaders. The result of this censorship is a more emboldened, harder to detect group that now has a sense of legitimate grievance and victimhood against the state, which it can use to encourage more extreme acts from its members and can spin to its advantage during recruitment efforts. By leaving them in the open they feel more comfortable acting within the confines of the law and are thus far less dangerous, even if they are more visible.
Forcing Holocaust deniers out of the spotlight and underground can only serve the cause of justice. Surveillance efforts can be employed more rigorously if need be, and will be considerably more legitimate to employ against these groups when their actions are acknowledged to be illegal. With them out of the spotlight they are less likely to rope in new recruits among casual, open-minded internet-goers.
BBC, “The Pirate Bay moves to the cloud to avoid shutdown”, BBC News, 17 October 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19982440
BBC, “French President Hollande vows new Armenia ‘genocide law’”, BBC News. 8 July 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18758078
BBC. “Germany’s Neo-Nazi Underground”. BBC News. 7 December 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16056399
Chomsky, Noam. “His Right to Say it”. The Nation. 28 February 1981, http://www.chomsky.info/articles /19810228.htm
Dahmann, Klaus. “No Room for Holocaust denial in Germany”. Deutsche Welle. 23 December 2005. http://www.dw.de/no-room-for-holocaust-denial-in-germany/a-1833619-1
Darnell, Scott, “Measuring Holocaust Denial in the United States”, Harvard Kennedy School, May 2010, http://www.hks.harvard.edu/ocpa/pdf/HolocaustDenialPAE.pdf
Gottfried, Ted. Deniers of the Holocaust: Who They Are, What They Do, Why They Do It. Brookfield, CT: Twenty-First Century Books, 2001.
Holocaust Encyclopedia. “Combating Holocaust Denial: The Origin of Holocaust Denial”. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007273
Holocaust Encyclopedia, “Introduction to the Holocaust”, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 11 May 2012, http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005143
Lipstadt, Deborah. Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. New York: Free Press, 1993.
OpenNet Initiative, “Europe”, 2006-7, http://opennet.net/research/regions/europe
Savaricas, Nathalie, “Greece’s neo-fascists are on the rise... and now they’re going into schools: How Golden Dawn is nurturing the next generation”, The Independent, 2 February 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/greeces-neofascists-are-on-the-rise-and-now-theyre-going-into-schools-how-golden-dawn-is-nurturing-the-next-generation-8477997.html
Seythal, T. “Holocaust Denier Sentenced to Five Years”. The Washington Post. 15 February 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/15/AR2007021501283.html