Neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, and other white supremacist and racist groups have been using the Internet Archive (archive.org) in San Francisco to spread their propaganda and incitement online in recent years.
They can “upload movies, audio, texts, software, images, and other formats… any time you wish” and freely share the link to the resulting page, according to the massive online digital library.
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) research has exposed the Internet Archive’s enabling of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other jihadi propaganda efforts, as well as its function as a database for their distribution of materials, recruitment campaigns, incitement of violence, fundraising, and even daily radio programs, for the past decade.
The San Francisco Gate has written before how ISIS liked the platform because, unlike other platforms like YouTube, there was no way to flag objectionable content for review and removal.
Today, the Internet Archive provides equal access to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and its terms of service continue to absolve it of responsibility for content uploaded to it.
Uploading content does not necessitate verification or credentials; all that is required is an email address.
In a November 2018 article on the Internet Archive’s vital role in maintaining an online archive and the ease of using it, the pro-Al-Qaeda online newspaper Al-Masra stated, “[You] will lose nothing for signing up with a fake email, in a [few] steps that take less than a minute.”
While Congress and non-governmental organizations have demanded that Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media platforms take steps to prevent the spread of hatred, misinformation, and incitement to violence, the Internet Archive continues to be a go-to platform for violent anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, racists, and Holocaust deniers.
A two-year study examined the massive amount of content that these groups upload, download, and share on the Internet Archive, as well as how it is used for recruitment and radicalization.
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Historical Nazi content includes copies of Der Sturmer, the virulently anti-Semitic Nazi-era propaganda newspaper, as well as speeches and writings by Adolph Hitler, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and other Nazi figures.
Thousands of pages with titles like “Adolf Hitler: The Ultimate Red Pill,” “666 Adolf Hitler Quotes,” and “Joseph Goebbels, Master of Propaganda, Heil Hitler,” as well as videos and writings by convicted Holocaust deniers, are interspersed among the historical material.
Massive content from well-known white supremacist media outlets like Stormfront and the KKK, as well as content from newer hate groups, such as former grand wizard David Duke (who is banned from Twitter).
Extremist works, such as seminal white supremacist books, training manuals for carrying out attacks, recruitment videos, and manifestos of white supremacist mass shooters, are available for download — and for radicalization — on the platform.
False, antisemitic conspiracy theories abound about Jewish plots to seize world power and establish a “Jew World Order,” as well as alleged Jewish “false flag” operations, such as the false theory that the October 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue attack was intended to elicit sympathy for Jews.
“Holocaust – What Holocaust?” and references to the “Jewish HoloHoax” are among the results of searches for terms like “Holocaust.”
The irony is that, in attempting to preserve the nebulous content of the web, the Internet Archive lends permanence to hate material that has already been banned and removed from YouTube and other platforms, reinforcing the presence of content that has already been banned and removed from other platforms.
Yet, when it wants to, the Internet Archive is clearly capable of notifying users about debunked or banned content, even announcing in October 2020 that it was annotating “false and misleading information” in its Wayback Machine by linking to “contextual information” and indicating whether an item had passed the test of “a fact-checking organization.”
However, it appears that it has done so only for content related to COVID-19 and the 2017 GOP health-care bill so far.
All of this stands in stark contrast to the platform’s status as a nonprofit organization providing “Universal Access to All Knowledge,” as well as Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle’s statements from 2019 about the platform’s goal of countering misinformation.
It also goes against the government’s and private funders’ stated goals, including the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and many others.
On the same day the MEMRI study was released, Mark Graham, the director of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, requested and was given a copy, as well as a list of links to extremist content cited in the report.
However, as of this writing, all of the links are still active.
Over the last six months, this information has been re-sent to Graham several times, including in two requests this week for confirmation that he had received it.
He finally responded to the MEMRI staffer who had sent him the information in a phone call, stating that everything we had sent him had been read and reviewed, and that running an online library entailed difficult ethical and other decisions.
Graham said we could call him back for more information, but he offered no concrete plans for taking action or preventing terrorist and extremist groups from freely using the platform.
Despite Graham’s definition of the issue as complicated, there is no complication in the fact that neo-Nazis and white supremacists have continued to freely use the Internet Archive since the publication of the MEMRI study, with no action taken.
Furthermore, it has been more than a decade since our research revealed terrorist groups using the platform, including Al-Qaeda and ISIS, with no action taken.
As stated in the MEMRI study, libraries must take responsibility and ensure that safeguards are in place to ensure that the library — whether physical or digital — is not misused.
Doesn't sound like a neo-nazi rally at all amirite https://t.co/Yx7d4FXxBB
— Elizabeth C. McLaughlin (she/her) (@ECMcLaughlin) July 18, 2021
Yes, it can be complicated — but, just as other social media platforms are held accountable for the content that is posted on their platforms, so must the Internet Archive.
Based on a general understanding of how the platform is used, the Internet Archive and its board members should devise a solution for dealing with the platform’s abundance of hateful content.
NEO-NAZIS FORTIFIED MICHIGAN COMPOUND TO LAUNCH RACE WAR
Domestic terrorists hatched their own plot: Establishing a white nationalist, heavily armed, and fortified “community” to launch the so-called race war. #extremism https://t.co/ZgtWgjRXlD
— Tomthunkit™ (@TomthunkitsMind) July 20, 2021
While its mission is admirable, it must face the same scrutiny as other popular platforms for their role in facilitating the spread of anti-Semitic, racist, and hateful misinformation.
Consumption of this content has all-too-real and often lethal consequences, yet the Internet Archive provides a safe haven and allows it to thrive.