This article in today’s Observer caught my attention and has prompted me to get back to my reflective blog space here. The article draws our attention to the changing fortunes of David Irving, a discredited historian and holocaust denier who boasts of a resurgence of interest in his work thanks to his online presence in the form of many openly shared lectures which are available on You Tube. It seems that many young people wishing to better understand what may seem to their young minds like a legend from the past, notably the Second World War and the treatment of the Jews by the nazis, have used a much frequented source of knowledge aka You Tube to gain enlightenment. Clearly, one ensnared in Irving’s channel they have been unable to bring any critical thought to the “information” he presents. All this despite the reality that a book, a court case judgement and a movie have long-established and disseminated the truth: the holocaust – racist persecution of a sector of society used as a scapegoat for economic decline in the 20th century – happened.
This is sad. And dangerous. I would like to think that young people have greater intellectual abilities and could not drift into the blind belief that YouTubers tell it like it is just because You Tubing is a helpful way to find out who is doing what in Minecraft and a source of many life hacks that help them cope with a rapidly changing, demanding world. In fact I know young people are not so stupid. They can be rendered stupid if our societal vision of education is one that insists on blind compliance. Think on USA – what do you value in your education system? You are going to have to fight for a system that empowers the development of critical skills. Here’s Martin Luther King on education. Your next leader however may be less of a visionary.
The latter part of the article however seems to blame the internet for this worrying post truth world that has produced such an unexpected, unwelcome return to grace for ideas that are to blame for some of the greatest human catastrophes in human history. I cannot let that go unanswered. The internet is no more to blame for fake news than the motorway network is to blame for traffic accidents. Indeed I recently pointed out the need for us all to engage and populate the online spaces where many go to get their information. Without intellectual challenge in these spaces from the informed, policing and challenging the nonsense, people like Irving will continue to exert their influence. He’s clearly not phased about answering 300 emails a day, he now drives a Rolls Royce apparently although he claims the money isn’t important to him. If we don’t share the discussions with young people and the curious we leave them to align themselves with those who will give them the time. Academics don’t generally blame books or the printing press for all the ills of society. It is not responsible to dismiss all that appears on the web as “fake news”, to distance ourselves from this new media. Time to get involved in the open communication channels that are most frequented by those looking for answers.