Editorial: A Nobler Use for Social Media

Oct. 19, 2020

The following is an editorial that ran in the National Post on Oct. 17, reprinted here with permission:

Properly used, social media can be a powerful educational tool

We live in an era of fake news and forgotten history. Social media is a breeding ground, or at least an amplifier, of the former. Tackling that challenge will be the work of years. But, properly used, social media can also be a powerful educational tool. And the first step in making it so will be at least adopting a do-no-harm policy. There was an overdue but welcome step in that direction this week.

Twitter and Facebook, the social media giants, both said that they will ban Holocaust denial on their platforms. This is long overdue. (Some important background on this can be found elsewhere in these pages, reprinted with permission from the Canadian Jewish Record.) Holocaust denial is not a matter of opinion or free speech, it is an overt form of anti-semitism, and it is right to treat it as such. It is perplexing, and alarming, to be blunt, that the social media giants needed this long to take action to deny the organized Nazi slaughter of six million Jews and millions of other “untermenschen” — racial and social undesirables. But having finally done the right thing, albeit belatedly, the companies deserve at least muted credit. They dawdled, but they did the right thing in the end.

The challenge, and opportunity, is now to find a way to leverage the power of these sites to teach the history, warts and all, that is the birthright of mankind. Historical illiteracy is a real and growing problem. It is not limited to the Holocaust, of course, but the problem there is particularly acute, and illustrative: a recent survey found astonishing levels of ignorance regarding the basic historical truth of the Holocaust among young American adults; comparable Canadian surveys reveal numbers that aren’t quite so appalling, but are certainly nothing to be proud of, either.

Education, of course, is essential, and the history education that Canadian students receive has long been known to be woefully inadequate. That can and must be fixed. But that shouldn’t just mean textbooks in classrooms (physical or virtual). The social media tools of today could do tremendous good if properly harnessed by institutions, scholars and living witnesses. Now that the giants have agreed to stop harming the cause, perhaps now they can be put to a nobler use.