Last week BBC History were running a poll which asked whether holocaust denial should be made illegal in Britain.

Do you think holocaust denial should be made illegal in Britain?
We want your views. From the January issue of BBC History Magazine, we’ll be introducing a new section where we gauge your opinion on the key historical story of the month. To start with, holocaust denial is the news again.

Controversial revisionist historian David Irving was arrested in Austria recently on charges of denying the holocaust. In 2000 Irving lost a high court libel case against American academic Deborah Lipstadt who had accused him of Holocaust denial.

Austria is one of a number of European countries, including France, Germany and Belgium where it is an offence to deny the holocaust.

I believe in free speech so I voted ‘no.’

In the UK we already have a law (‘incitement to hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds’) which is designed to prevent the kind of thing a new holocaust law would deal with. Naturally, that has already placed a limit on what can be said. Surprisingly, this law was passed to protect Muslims from hate speech! However, this law is used to prevent Muslims from preaching sermons of hate but not to police the hate speech that has infected public discourse on Muslims and Arabs.

In society, people have to expect insult and offence. Why does one group of people think they can call upon the law to defend themselves from insult and hate? Ironically the same people who make statements such as “The idea is to put Palestinians on a diet but not make them die of hunger.” That’s hate speech is it not – advertising the state’s intention to visit a holocaust on Palestinians?

If denying the holocaust is a form of hate speech which must be outlawed, then outlaw all hate speech. Is it necessary to have one specific law for the Jewish holocaust? There have been other genocides which are just as barbaric such as the Rwandan holocaust or the Armenian holocaust. Why does the Jewish tragedy deserve special treatment, why not include all holocausts?

How many individuals in the public domain respect these laws anyway? A video was posted On Youtube TV by some white Brits which promises to cut the heads off British Muslims. No action taken as yet. It seems it is a crime to question the holocaust or engage in hate speech only if it is directed at Jews. Will I be criminalised in the future for saying such a thing? What has happened to civil liberties in the UK? Thought crime is already a reality.

Out of curiousity I decided to monitor the BBC poll for a while to see how many people were voting. At the time more people had voted to make holocaust denial illegal but there was something odd about the vote. Each time I refreshed the page to check how much the vote had moved, I noticed that the ‘no’s’ were moving up slowly while the ‘yes’ vote remained unchanged. Initially, I thought the poll was being manipulated but then the poll moved oddly, with a sudden 2000 votes being added to the ‘yes’ vote out of the blue. This pattern was repeated for the rest of the day. All the while, the ‘yes’ vote outstripped those voting ‘no.’ I mentioned this on a forum I subscribe to and was immediately accused of “lying like a pig” by an Israel-firster who I have constantly caught out lying for Israel.

I was surprised however to discover that the BBC had removed the poll

BBC History Magazine was forced to remove an online poll after it was targeted by a project aimed at influencing internet opinion in Israel’s favour.

The Give Israel Your United Support (GIYUS) website hosts a downloadable desktop tool called Megaphone. The program alerts users to opinion polls and “talkback” features on news sites so they can respond with pro-Israel views. In turn, users can alert GIYUS operators to any opinion polls they think should be targeted.
Click here to find out more!

The Jerusalem-based World Union of Jewish Students launched GIYUS and Megaphone on 19 July, a week after Israel launched air attacks in Lebanon.

The long-running BBC History Magazine poll posed the question: “Do you think holocaust denial should be made illegal in Britain?” Soon after it was targeted by Megaphone, the poll was pulled. The magazine declined to speak to The Register about the episode.

Prior to contacting The Register, our source corresponded with the magazine. Staff writer Robert Attar wrote at the end of August: “I am aware about this situation. I had a look at their site and all they have done is encouraged their members to vote on the polls which seems legitimate to me. It would also be extremely difficult to prevent groups of people voting in this way. As our polls are not used for any scientific or academic purpose I don’t see the problem.”

Three days after the launch of Megaphone, Amir Gissin, public affairs director of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote to pro-Israel or “Hasbara” organisations to urge them to back the new tactic.

Dear friends,

Many of us recognize the importance of the Internet as the new battleground for Israel’s image. It’s time to do it better, and coordinate our on-line efforts on behalf of Israel. An Israeli software company have developed a free, safe and useful tool for us – the Internet Megaphone.

Please go to http://www.giyus.org, download the Megaphone, and you will receive daily updates with instant links to important internet polls, problematic articles that require a talkback, etc.

We need 100,000 Megaphone users to make a difference. So, please distribute this mail to all Israel’s supporters.

Do it now. For Israel.

Amir Gissin
Director Public Affairs (Hasbara) Department

GIYUS currently claims 24,000 Megaphone users.

Comparing Megaphone to pro-Palestinian blogs designed to rally support, in comments to the Jerusalem Post on 31 August, Gissin said: “Why can they do it, but we need to sit quietly? The Internet is the communications medium of the future. The government is not behind this initiative, but I can only be happy it exists.”

One Megaphone alert dispatched in August said: “Ask the UN to re-examine its position on the Qana incident. Remind the UN that Reuters admitted some of the Qana photos are faked, and that Hezbollah manipulates and uses innocent Lebanese civilians as human shields.”

Qana was the scene of a devastating airstrike which killed dozens of civilians, including many children. Israel was widely condemned and the UN security council expressed “shock and distress” at the action.

Other interested parties have called for the initiative to try and stay under the radar. Former Israeli consul-general in New York Alon Pinkas told the Jerusalem Post: “Once it is out there that these are organized talkbacks, then anytime anything positive appears on the web, people will say it is manufactured in Israel.”

While the loss of the BBC History poll is relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme, it points to a new highly organised mass manipulation of technologies which are supposed to be democratising and encouraging free expression by individuals.

Megaphone has no registration or identity check, so nothing would stop those opposed to Israel downloading Megaphone and using its alerts to voice opinions against its activities, however. Inevitably, a hacked version already exists which replaces Israeli flags with Palestinian ones and alters some of the text.

However it is used, Megaphone is effectively a high-tech exercise in ballot-stuffing. We’re calling it lobbyware. ®

Imagine the stink if the poll were found to have been manipulated by David Irving supporters? The waves of outrage from ADL and Israel firsters would have drowned every other issue in the media. The BBC would have been accused of being anti-Semitic. As it is, not a peep has been heard from BBC History, no mention has been made of the poll-rigging on their site or even that the poll has been closed. Despite this dishonest attempt to swing the vote byt the Israeli lobby, the final tally reveals that more people voted against making holocaust denial illegal.

This behaviour will dilute the authenticity of future polls but does that really matter? In the case of the BBC’s holocaust poll there was no chance that it would be quoted in any BBC programmes as they do have a strict policy about how web-based polls can be referred to in their programmes. As Currybet reports…

The BBC guidelines on online votes state:

On BBC websites which may relate to political or public policy issues, we must take care that online expressions of opinion are not translated into anything that could be construed either as an accurate representation of public opinion as a whole, or as the BBC’s opinion.

Any summary of online voting or expression of opinion should:

  • * not be called a poll.
    * make it absolutely clear that the results have no wider significance and represent only the views of the audience at that time.
  • Provided this is done explicitly and the numbers of the audience responding is reported at the same time, results of online votes may be expressed in percentages.

    If the vote is to be about a political or controversial public policy issue it must be referred to Chief Adviser Politics or in the case of a website in a language other than English, to the relevant World Service Head of Region or National Controller, who may also consult Chief Adviser Politics.

    There is also a specific section dealing with the reporting of internet votes elsewhere

    We can report any summary of online voting on the radio or television programme associated with the website, but we should not normally report it elsewhere in news, or on other radio or TV programmes, or on other online services.

    So we need not worry about non-serious polls being quoted to support official policy.

    While GIYUS may not have any effect on official polls, its use is the harbinger of the death of democracy on the internet. Without fail, more groups will avail themselves of this method to troll and disrupt discourse which has to date been relatively open and free. The software designers claim that the purpose of GIYUS is to influence polls and discussions by presenting the views of the Israeli lobby.

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