Google has said it “must do better” at removing what campaigners called “sickening” and “grotesque” antisemitic content following an investigation by the Guardian.
More than 150 antisemitic comments were discovered on the Google Maps site for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where the Nazis killed 1.1 million people, the overwhelming majority Jews.
Google’s reviews tool, attached to its Maps service, invites users to rate locations on a scale of one to five stars, encouraging a written review with the message: “Tell us what you loved about this place.” This function applies to the death camp in the southern Polish town of Oświęcim, also known by its German name Auschwitz, which has been operating as a museum since 1947.
Anitsemitic posts, such as “Heil Hitler” and “It’s a shame the SS was disbanded so long ago”, have been hosted on Google for months, in some cases years. The comments “Showers were a great experience, Anne Frankly I’m glad I came” and “Good place to go if you want to lose weight fast” had been on the site for four and nine years respectively.
At least 96 of the posts were made by anonymous users, with some posing as others such as the Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, the Australian serial killer Ivan Milat, the SS commander Michael Wittmann and Adolf Hitler. More than a dozen of the posts had been made by a “local guide”, a title Google provides to users upon application.
The option to report an offensive review to Google is available via its “flag as inappropriate” function. However, more than 24 hours after 153 offending reviews were reported to Google by the Guardian, the majority remained online.
The Auschwitz Memorial’s spokesperson said its Google reviews page had long been a target for antisemites: “Our experience is that sadly, in many cases, different disturbing, antisemitic comments are often not removed after being reported as they ‘do not violate regulations’.”
Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “These comments are sickening. Google need to take responsibility for the hate being shared on their site and take steps to monitor and remove such abhorrent content, and improve and change their moderation and policies.”
All offending reports were passed on to the Community Security Trust, a charity that supports Jews experiencing antisemitism with security advice, and a spokesperson said: “These so-called ‘reviews’ of Auschwitz are grotesque and there is absolutely no justification for Google’s failure to remove them.
“It is sadly predictable that the listing for Auschwitz would attract antisemitic comments and Google ought to have systems in place to address this.”
They added: “Unfortunately [Google’s] failure to do so is yet another example of the need for effective regulation through the online harms bill. It is clear that the platforms’ existing policies are not doing the job.”
Jo Stevens, the shadow secretary for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS), also called for policy and legislative changes. “This is completely unacceptable. Google has the technology to prevent antisemitic hate from being published and to remove it if it does make its way on to their site. This vile content on their platform helps to spread dangerous beliefs and it emboldens racists.”
She repeated Labour’s calls for the online safety bill to “include criminal sanctions and significant financial penalties” and blamed the government for the delays in this new law: “The Tories have broken their promise on bringing forward legislation, with delay after delay and have already watered down their original proposals after pressure from big tech.”
A DCMS spokesperson said the online safety bill “will hold tech platforms to account for tackling and removing illegal content such as antisemitic comments. We will impose tough sanctions including huge fines if they do not act.” It is not yet understood when this bill will reach parliament.
A Google spokesperson said: “We are appalled by these reviews on our platform and are taking action to remove the content and prevent further abuse.
“We have clear policies that prohibit offensive and fake reviews and we work around the clock to monitor Maps. In this case, we know we need to do better and are working to evaluate and improve our detection systems.”
At the time of writing, all but two offending reviews had been removed.