Lack of Historical Literacy Leads to Holocaust Denial

A video was posted a few weeks back by a libertarian-leaning conspiracist blogger. It featured a high-school student called “Jazzy” discussing her fears about government microchipping and the “mark of the beast”. Her uncle’s skepticism about those claims apparently led her to stumble across references to Holocaust denial online.

She seems to have bought into those claims and submitted a school report on how the Holocaust never happened. Apparently it received an “A”.

The video was taken down on Monday after the Israeli paper Haaretz picked up on it. The poster seemed startled that it might make him look like an anti-semite.

Just as well, it’s probably best not to make too much fun out of this one girl. While Haaretz did label this kind of web-based conspiracism the “new anti-semitism,” they acknowledge that Jazzy is not the problem, “It is no more than a grainy clip featuring a shy girl mumbling Holocaust denial with the level of confidence of a student trying to remember what she was taught in her last geography lesson.”

But the video did point to a larger problem. The same blogger who posted the video also posted Jazzy’s paper The paper is studded with links to groups like the Institute for Historical Review, currently the most prominent Holocaust denial organization, and BibleBelievers, an Australian church with apocalyptic and conspiracist views. Also, Urban Dictionary.

Getting information from the internet can be like drinking from a firehose. Never before have humans had so much information so readily available, but never before has it been so important to be critical of your sources. It is easy to get overwhelmed, and even easier if you’re like Jazzy and not prepared.

Teaching kids to be skeptical of sources is not easy, nor is it clear which criteria they should use. We could teach them to steer clear of amateurish productions like BibleBelievers, but the polished and professional IHR is more difficult. It’s also possible to be too skeptical of established sources. Going back to primary sources is nice, but usually not an option. It’s also difficult, tedious and time consuming.

There’s no easy answer. My guess is that we need a real push by schools, museums and skeptics groups to teach kids the facts and the methods used to establish the facts. But schools are underfunded, museums are struggling to survive, and the skeptic movement prefers to focus on testable pseudoscientific and paranormal claims.

I’m starting to think we need something more.

  • dashifen

    I’ve often pondered how online sources could become peer-reviewed in some capacity. I suspect that we’ll get there eventually, but we need to figure out a way to both ensure an individuals bone fides and somehow indicate that a specific source was reviewed by those individuals with domain expertise. Recent stories of abuse in the Wikipedia editing system indicates we definitely have more work to do.

  • kessy_athena

    I’m not so sure this is actually a new problem. In some ways, you could think of the internet as just being a village pub that a significant fraction of the world’s population frequents. You get the same mix of real information, things that got corrupted in transmission, exaggerated tall tales, and outright fiction. There’s just a lot more of it.

  • Mick

    Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see.

  • Monte Harris

    The “fixing education” problem is a hard one. Going into education (high school social studies) myself and am wondering how I’ll manage. There’s so much to compete with–curriculum standards, teaching to the state tests rather than the curriculum (because your performance is based off the state tests), community standards. Grrr. *throws hands in the air but then settles back down*