Freaking Out About Nazi Content On The Internet Archive Is Totally Missing The Point

from the moral-panics dept

The moral panics around anyone finding “bad” content online are getting out of control. The latest is a truly silly article in the San Francisco Chronicle whining about the fact that there is Nazi content available on the Internet Archive, written by the executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, Steven Stalinsky, who is quite perturbed that his own personal content moderation desires are not how the Internet Archive moderates.

For the past decade, Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) research has been exposing the Internet Archive’s enabling of Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other jihadi propaganda efforts and its function as a database for their distribution of materials, recruitment campaigns, incitement of violence, fundraising and even daily radio programs. We wrote that ISIS liked the platform because there was no way to flag objectionable content for review and removal ? unlike on other platforms such as YouTube. Today, the Internet Archive enables neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the same ways, and its terms of use still deny responsibility for content uploaded to it.

Right, so let’s stop right there. Yes, for over a decade, we’ve written about ongoing complaints among the pearl clutching crew that you could find terrorist content online, along with their demands that websites pull it down, leading to social media sites shutting down the accounts of human rights groups who were documenting war crimes committed by terrorist organizations.

There’s a key point in this: just because this information is available does not mean it is only used for nefarious purposes. Indeed, it is often used for important and valuable purposes — such as documenting crimes. Or creating historical archives that show truly horrific crimes and ignorant thinking. Deleting that and sweeping it under the rug is not a reasonable approach either. But this entire article by Stalinsky seems premised on the idea that every bit of evidence of Nazi-ism should disappear. That seems incredibly counterproductive.

A recent two-year study I co-authored reviews the massive amount of content being uploaded, downloaded and shared by these groups on the Internet Archive and how it is used for recruitment and radicalization. This includes historical Nazi content such as copies of Der Sturmer, the virulently antisemitic Nazi-era propaganda newspaper, and speeches and writings by Adolph Hitler, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and other Nazi figures.

This historical material is interspersed with neo-Nazi content, including tens of thousands of pages with titles such as “Adolf Hitler: The Ultimate Red Pill,” “666 Adolf Hitler Quotes” and “Joseph Goebbels, Master of Propaganda, Heil Hitler,” and videos and writings by convicted Holocaust deniers.

And the answer to this content is… to set it all on fire? Like that won’t come back to bite you?

Extremist works are available on the platform for download ? and for radicalization ? including seminal white supremacist books, training manuals for carrying out attacks, recruitment videos and several manifestos of white supremacist mass shooters.

And it’s also available for activists, journalists, researchers and more to study it and figure out how to counter it.

Yes, these are serious issues and I can understand the concerns about how this information could be misused (though, despite an attention grabbing headline about how the website is a “favorite” for “neo-Nazis”, the actual article supplies little to no evidence to support that claim). But simply hiding the information doesn’t make it go away–nor does it deal with any of the underlying reasons such information might be appealing to some ignorant people. It is brushing a serious issue under the rug, and doing so in a way that can have seriously bad consequences — as we’ve seen with social media sites deleting evidence of war crimes.

Everyone seems to think that content moderation is easy — just do what I would do — without ever thinking through the actual trade-offs and challenges of having to actually make these decisions. The article here seems to be written in incredibly bad faith, assuming that removing these historical documents is the only possible and acceptable solution, without bothering to grapple with the serious difficulties and trade-offs involved in making such decisions. Are there ways that the Internet Archive could better handle this content? Probably! Will being scolded as a “favorite” of “neo-Nazis” help make that work better? That seems unlikely.

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Comments on “Freaking Out About Nazi Content On The Internet Archive Is Totally Missing The Point”

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28 Comments
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

This means war!

Okay, so he’s going after the internet archive? Does he not know why archives exist to begin with? It’s to document and archive stuff, even if those stuff happen to be war crimes. It’s one thing if YouTube moderates it’s algorithm, but trying to make a non-profit library like the internet archive less useful and more deleterious?

Steven Stalinsky has just made a new enemy, and it’s neither a Nazi group nor a terrorist group; it’s me, a citizen who loves archives, libraries, and the concept of open access in general!

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
TaboToka (profile) says:

Re: This means war!

Okay, so he’s going after the internet archive? Does he not know why archives exist to begin with?

I guess the irony is lost on him that he’s advocating for a digital Säuberung (book burning), just like the Nazis:

"And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past." —Joseph Goebbels, book burning speech, May 10, 1933

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: This means war!

"Steven Stalinsky has just made a new enemy, and it’s neither a Nazi group nor a terrorist group; it’s me, a citizen who loves archives, libraries, and the concept of open access in general!"

I once came across, and read, a number of old vintage copies of the original "Der Stürmer", to find out what the nazis were saying. Although it was revolting reading it certainly paid off later on when I started to see the same tells showing up in contemporary online comments.

The concept of "Fake news", for instance (lügenpresse) which was core of Goebbel’s strategy of peddling an obviously false narrative by claiming the liberal/leftist media all have an agenda, set by communists or jews, in order to suppress the chosen…has seen extensive use in the contemporary GOP.

Scapegoating as the default method of whipping up the hopeless losers making up most of the base.

The reliance on authoritarianism and a strongman Leader (Führer).

The nazis should not be forgotten. What they left behind must be looked at and discussed time and time again. Lest we forget and allow them a comeback because we were too squeamish to learn what led up to them taking power at that time.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Nathan F (profile) says:

So, should we also pull down information about the Crusades? They did some pretty reprehensible things in their efforts to "return the holy lands" to the church. How about the Spanish Inquisition, or the Trail of Tears? Should we pull down everything about the horrible things people have done in the name of God and or country, because if we do that and try and pretend that everything in the past was all sweetness and light your going to have problems in the future.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

I’ve often referred to Nazi propaganda and such when I’ve asked people if they’d like the government to make them host offensive speech. I do it for a reason: to provoke a gut reaction. Nazis are the accepted baseline for human evil, followed closely by serial killers, Big Oil CEOs, and M. Night Shyamalan¹. Saying “the government should make Twitter host all legal speech” means I can throw the Nazi door wide open as an example to go along with that One Simple Question few people ever answer directly.

But beyond the provocation of that question is a more important one: If someone chooses to host Nazi propaganda, should they be forced to take it down, and under what circumstances should that takedown occur? It’s easy to look at the Archive’s hosting of historical Nazi propaganda and say “understandable, have a nice day”. But take a shitpit like Stormfront posting modern Nazi propaganda as a recruitment tool: If the hosting company behind Stormfront doesn’t have a problem with such speech, and none of the speech crosses a line into illegal/unlawful, who the fuck is anybody to demand that speech be taken down?

I’ve always said that I think even the worst people have the right to speak their mind. That includes actual, factual, honest-to-God contemporary Nazis. No platform should be forced to host legally protected speech⁠—and any platform willing to host offensive-yet-legal speech shouldn’t be forced by law to take it down.


¹ — I’m kidding, of course. MNS is only mid-tier evil.

ECA (profile) says:

The human mind is a terrible thing

Many people cant live and understand the past, without living it.
If you Bury things deep enough and/or remove the data/stories/anything of note from the past. MOST of us will debate it and consider it Gone and lost, and SOME will say it never happened.

It took 40 years to get the info of what our gov did int he past in Korea and Vietnam. From drug testing on troops to some of the atrocities the past is showing that ALL wars create.

The Secrets act in the USA is one of those things that Hides allot of WHAT has been hidden. 40 years before it can be released and Most of those responsible are beyond the statutes of limitation and Many more are dead.

Yes there are Museums and locations that will display this data for along time, but there is no OPEN/FREE/EASY way to let Everyone see and experience these.
Going back into history is fun and entertaining, with the questions, ‘Why?’, ‘Why didnt they see this coming/happening?’, ‘How in hell did they allow this?’. But WE werent there.

The most interesting point is What we do know NOW, and being able to share our thoughts for the future to read. To Explain what we see and do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Is hating (for lack of a better word) in vogue or something?

Just last week people were writing poorly sourced articles about them after a New Zealand National Library press release about a plan to donate 600K no longer needed books to Internet Archive for digitisation.

"equivalent to ‘internet piracy’" it is not.
"pirating books under the made-up excuse of ‘controlled digital lending’" Right…

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bloof (profile) says:

I wonder why the executive director of an organisation with a reputation for mistranslating things from the arab world for political reasons would want to be able to block the archival of certain content? It’s not like they have anything to gain from leaving their version of what was said as the most readily available to western journalists.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_East_Media_Research_Institute#Translation_accuracy_and_controversy

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

So they are adovating for digital book burning and the whitewashing of history.

There’s an old saying: "Those who don’t learn from History are doomed to repeat it."

Joseph Goebbels would be in support of what they’re doing ironically like TaboTaka said.

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