Did you know that social media has a Nazi problem? Of course it does. But often it is subtle and requires expert scrutiny.
When Ksenia Coffman started editing Wikipedia, she was like a tourist in Buenos Aires in the 1950s. She came to learn the tango, admire the architecture, sip maté. She didn’t know there was a Nazi problem. But Coffman, who was born in Soviet-era Russia and lives in Silicon Valley, is an intensely observant traveler. As she link-hopped through articles about the Second World War, one of her favorite subjects, she saw what seemed like a concerted effort to look the other way about Germany’s wartime atrocities.
Coffman can’t recall exactly when her concern set in. Maybe it was when she read the article about the SS, the Nazi Party’s paramilitary, which included images that felt to her like glamour shots—action-man officers admiring maps, going on parade, all sorts of “very visually disturbing” stuff. Or maybe it was when she clicked through some of the pages about German tank gunners, flying aces, and medal winners. There were hundreds of them, and the men’s impressive kill counts and youthful derring-do always seemed to exist outside the genocidal Nazi cause. What was going on here? Wikipedia was supposed to be all about consensus. Wasn’t there consensus on, you know, Hitler?
So she sat down and got to work, and started pointing out the lack of skepticism in so many Wiki articles.
Not for the first time, Coffman has been removing material from the article about the tank division. She thinks it’s full of unsourced fancruft, the Wikipedia word for fawning, excessively detailed descriptions that appeal to a tiny niche of readers—in this case, those thrilled by accounts of battle. The article tells how “the division acquitted itself well” even against “stiffening resistance,” how it “held the line” and earned the “grudging respect” of skeptical commanders. One contributor has used the eyebrow-raising phrase “baptism of fire.” It’s as if the editors don’t see the part lower down the page where a soldier uses the phrase “and then we cleaned a Jew hole.”
The glorifying language, Coffman thinks, is a clear sign that this is historical fan fiction. It elides the horrors of war. If editors want such details to stay on the page, at a minimum they should use a better source than Axis History, a blog whose motto is “Information not shared is lost.”
Turn on the History Channel sometime: it’s the same thing. There’s a reason it’s called the Hitler channel, and it’s because it’s cheap and easy to grab WWII footage — often nothing but propaganda films which launder and present credulous versions of the story — and splice it into a story. Aren’t those Nazi uniforms stylish? Wow, those soldiers had to be brave and stalwart to stand up to a Russian winter. Gosh, so many tanks! Cool! Let’s not think about what those soldiers were trying to do.
You can also see it on YouTube and in video games and the newspapers, always focusing on drama and spectacle without questioning what the hell those assholes were hoping to accomplish. It just takes a little effort to peel away the gosh-wow veneer to expose the rot beneath, but someone has to make the effort.
Another example in real life, with modern Nazis: Richard Spencer is on trial, and is trying desperately to present himself as “the erudite founder of a thinktank who represented a version of white nationalism that took pains to avoid racial slurs and glorification of violence”. He’s not. The lawyers showed everyone what he says when he’s not putting on a show for the gullible.
The plaintiffs played audio for the jury of Spencer launching into a tirade in the presence of co-defendants Jason Kessler, Nathan Damigo and Elliott Kline after learning about Heyer’s death following the Aug. 12, 2017 rally. (The leaked audio was previously published by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in 2019.)
“Little fucking k*kes,” Spencer said. “They get ruled by me. Little f*cking octoroons… I f*cking… my ancestors f*cking enslaved those pieces of f*cking sh*t. I rule the f*cking world. Those pieces of f*cking sh*t get ruled by people like me. They look up and see a face like mine looking down at them. That’s how the f*cking world works. We are going to destroy this f*cking town.”
So hooray for Ksenia Coffman. Hooray for Michael Bloch, the lawyer out to expose Spencer. We need more warriors like that.