Elise Nickerson at the University of Connecticut examines the evolution of Holocaust Denial literature—from books and articles to websites and online forums—and offers the counterintuitive conclusion [pdf] that, on measure, the Internet is weakening the movement.
One reason, she argues, is that the Web often denies the deniers the thin veneer of academic legitimacy:
Authors of print literature attempt to pose as academics and—for the most part—maintain a scholarly style while writing. Richard Evans notes that much of print literature “tried to present its arguments as the outcome of serious historical scholarship, resting on a combination of detailed documentary research and careful scholarly reasoning. Often it was extremely ingenious and required a considerable effort to unpick and to refute.” Deborah Lipstadt explains how Arthur Butz’s The Hoax of the Twentieth Century imitated legitimate scholarship by including “the requisite myriad notes and large bibliography that were the hallmarks of scholarly works, quoting many of the prominent historians who worked in this field and thanking a number of legitimate research centers and archives.”
The Internet has steered denial away from its days of mimicking scholarly works. Internet denial is hostile and uninviting, particularly in Holocaust denial discussion fora. Deniers on fora not only lash out at people who defend the history of the Holocaust, but have a tendency to fight amongst themselves….Deniers become angry when discussing the Holocaust.
The Internet has severely degraded the former “quality” of Holocaust denial. While authors of print literature have focused on preserving a scholarly image to their works, authors of websites do not share these goals. Internet deniers are more concerned with spreading propaganda as quickly as possible than with maintaining any quality in their work.
She also argues:
One particularly helpful aspect of the Internet is the wealth of information regarding other topics—namely the Holocaust. There are numerous websites available for people to learn about the history of the Holocaust, including the websites for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (http://www.ushmm.org) and Yad Vashem (http://www.yadvashem.org). The ability for one to find such a large amount of information about the Holocaust online is extremely helpful for those who want to preserve the truth about the Holocaust, and harmful for promoters of denial propaganda. There are also far fewer denial websites than Holocaust history websites…..Simply searching for “Holocaust” in Google brings up millions of results, but denial websites are not found among the first several pages.
Of course, the obvious counter-argument is that the Web provides easier access to Holocaust Denial than ever before. (A researcher in a public or university library is unlikely to find a David Irving book sitting on the shelves.) In my view, however, the greatest “advantage” to Holocaust Denial on the Web is that it offers an opportunity to “out” the anti-semitism often lurking beneath anti-Zionism. We’ve seen activists and organizations delegitimize themselves by linking to these sites; we’ve seen seemingly innocuous advertisements exposed by printing links to these sites, and authors of letters to newspapers and magazines are revealed for who they really are, by virtue of the “digital paper trail” they’ve left in online forums.