Word Holocaust ‘dangerous and derogatory’: Google

A New Zealand photographer says he could no longer use the word 'Holocaust' to promote his video series on Holocaust survivors after it was disallowed by Google. 

Auckland photographer Perry Trotter says he used Google’s AdWords to promote his Shadows of Shoah exhibitions but all his ads were recently disallowed because they contained “dangerous and derogatory” content.

His collection of three-minute videos in which survivors recount their stories has been shown in museums, galleries and public spaces from Invercargill to Whangarei and was launched in 2013 by former Prime Minister John Key.

The series is also available online.

“At first I thought this was simply a case of a Google algorithm misinterpreting our content so I spoke to an AdWords agent. He referred me to Google’s terms and conditions."

The Google agent informed Trotter that he was in violation of the following:

“Content that incites hatred against, promotes discrimination of, or disparages an individual or group on the basis of their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or other characteristic that is associated with systemic discrimination or marginalisation.”

Trotter says he explained at length how his work was the exact opposite, and opposed discrimination and hatred. He says Google disagreed.

“Over the next two weeks I spoke to two other Google agents, hoping to convince them that Google had misunderstood our work. I spent more than an hour on the line. I even sent Google detailed documentation of our good standing with the New Zealand Charities Commission and referred them to our website.”

“All I am doing is real history, verifiable history. In my mind, what Google is doing here is the equivalent of book burning.”

- Perry Trotter 

However, shortly after this story was published, Google contacted Newsroom to say they had got it wrong.

"We have detailed policies that apply to the content of AdWords ads designed to promote a safe and positive experience. In this instance, we clearly didn’t get it right and we apologise," a Google spokesperson said in an email. 

"The ads are now running again, and we are investigating what went wrong.”

Shadows of Shoah is a registered charity and Trotter’s work recording the stories of Holocaust survivors is funded by donations.

Google had refused to budge and told Trotter he had no further recourse.

Trotter believes Google had been engaging in censorship.

“It is really clear here that we have not violated the terms and conditions. There is something undisclosed that is driving this, something going on behind the scenes.”

“All I am doing is real history, verifiable history. In my mind, what Google is doing here is the equivalent of book burning.”

The subject of one of the videos, Holocaust survivor Inge Wolfe QSO, said Google’s stance was puzzling and concerning.

According to Google's terms and conditions, the word Holocaust 'incites hatred against' an individual or group. Photo: Supplied

“I would like to know why. These are not words (Holocaust and antisemitism) that I would associate with being dangerous, how can they be? However, I imagine they (Google) are so powerful they won’t need to explain.”

Wolfe, now in her eighties, escaped from Vienna with her family and went first to Czechoslovakia and then to England. Her father joined the Czech brigade of the British Army and fought the Nazis after the D-Day landings.

Following the war, the family moved to New Zealand and Wolfe set up the Holocaust Centre in Wellington.

The centre devotes considerable resources to helping educators who teach about the Holocaust as part of the social studies curriculum in schools. Wolfe said Trotter's work was well-respected.

“The Holocaust happened, it is a fact. The videos are truthful historical testimonies. It is important people know these stories in the hope this will never happen again.”

“As the survivors pass on the deniers will get stronger and stronger. It is very important the videos of these true stories are there to counter that.”

- Sydney Jewish Museum CEO Norman Seligman

Newsroom approached both the Sydney Jewish Museum and Yad Vashem, the world Holocaust remembrance centre in Jerusalem, to see if they had encountered similar issues. Both confirmed they had.

A spokesperson for Yad Vashem said it was “able to resolve a similar issue with Google and that it wasn’t the only institution to be given an exemption”.

The Sydney museum said there had been a problem with Google AdWords when it used the word “Holocaust” but this had been remedied. It couldn’t provide details on how.

Museum CEO Norman Seligman said he was familiar with Trotter's work and it was “not at all” dangerous or derogatory.

He said the videos of survivors' accounts of the Holocaust were becoming more important because Holocaust deniers were on the rise.

“As the survivors pass on the deniers will get stronger and stronger. It is very important the videos of these true stories are there to counter that.”

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