The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

A Public Statement Regarding
Ernst Zundel
&
Internet Interactivity
The Internet as a Public "Medium"


5. The Internet is a global network of networks, connecting tens of millions of computers and people. Like any computer network, the net has a variety of means of allowing its computers and users to communicate.

6. The three most common means for people to communicate on the net are through Email, Usenet, and the world-wide Web.

7. Email is generally considered a private communications medium where messages are normally sent between individuals with specific electronic addresses. "Mailing Lists," akin to uni- or bidirectional distribution lists, are a popular exception to this general rule, but uni- directional distribution is not interactive, and cannot be readily addressed, even by those within the distribution channel. To my knowledge, Mr. Zundel does not participate in any bidirectional Mailing Lists, which do offer interactivity, albeit limited to a narrow distribution set. As Email is not generally available for public scrutiny, we will not consider it with respect to claims of interactivity.

8. Usenet is a means by which people around the world can communicate publicly. On Usenet, forums called "newsgroups" categorize discussion into different topics; for example, because Holocaust-denial is commonly known as "revisionism," the newsgroup for that topic is called alt.revisionism. There are thousands of newsgroups. Reading Usenet news, commonly known as "reading news," is done by purchasing access to a specialized computer known as a news server. News access is almost always bundled without cost, as part of net access. Millions of people around the world, on all seven continents, read news on thousands of different news servers.

9. Messages posted to a newsgroup travel from news server to news server, spreading throughout the world. Typically, within a few hours of posting a news "article," as they are called, that article will be available on the majority of news servers around the world; within a few days, it will be on all of them. Anyone reading that newsgroup will see all new articles each time he or she accesses the group.

10. Publishing information to Usenet is very easy, primarily because it is done with the same software which one uses to read news. If one is reading news and wishes to reply to an article, it typically takes about ten seconds (plus the time actually required to type the reply) before that article can be sent to the news server. One can speak of the "barriers to entry" of the marketplace of ideas as being minor.

11. The ease of answering to Usenet leads to discussion which is very open. Tens of thousands of discussions, from erudite to insipid, are taking place on Usenet at this, and every, moment, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Anyone with a connection to the net can participate. The topics may last hours or months. It is the closest thing that the world has ever seen to a "town meeting" on a global scale.

12. Furthermore, Usenet is archived. Two major services (Deja News and Alta Vista) provide free public access to "back issues" of Usenet news. Every word posted is, unless the author specifies otherwise, a matter of public record. This allows participants to avoid wondering what, exactly, was said; it can be read back from the archival transcripts at any time.

13. The world-wide web, commonly known as the "Web," is another means by which communication may take place publicly. The web is technically different from Usenet in that published material is not spread automatically from server to server. The material resides on one server, a web server, and is delivered from that machine to whoever requests it, when it is requested.

14. One major practical difference of the web is that publishing information is not nearly as rapid a process, it is far more difficult. Instead of being typed on-the-spot, web pages must all be composed in a format called HyperText Markup Language (HTML). This is a fairly complex process, since HTML is barely human-readable. Also, they must be uploaded to one's website, using different software from that used to view the web. The exact process of uploading and downloading differs from computer to computer, but is always more complex than posting to Usenet.

15. One must also link the newly-created webpage to the other pages on one's site, which means downloading, editing, and re-uploading a number, possibly a large number, of other pages. Finally, because an HTML file is barely human- readable, and because it often looks different when it is moved from one computer to another, the upload must be checked and proofread once all these steps are complete and the file is in its final location. If any errors are found, those files must be re-edited, re-uploaded, and re-checked.

16. From my experience, which includes the creation of nearly 3,000 HTML-coded documents, and that of my webmaster, Jamie McCarthy, (disregarding the time required to compose and type a file in the first place) the overhead to publish each file on the web is two orders of magnitude greater than Usenet. That is, approximately fifteen minutes, as opposed to a few seconds. This may vary somewhat from user to user, but experience suggests it is reasonably accurate.

17. This lengthy process is well-known as a factor which distinguishes the web from other forms of public communication on the net. Just recently, on March 19, 1997, the Communications Decency Act came before the United States Supreme Court; the Government argued that it would be acceptable to impose limitations on free speech on the net, allowing highest speech protection only for the web. The attorney for the ACLU et al. argued eloquently that the web was not "functionally equivalent" to Usenet and similar forums, because interactive dialogue was not to be found there. The ACLU argument can be found at URL http://www.aclu.org/issues/cyber/trial/sctran.html.

18. The distinction between the two forums was expressed more simply by David Thomas, the webmaster of the Committee for Open Debate On the Holocaust site _ a "revisionist" site friendly with the Zundel site, who said: "A standard Web site is next to impossible to use for continuing dialogue, far too many delays and cumbersome procedures." A copy of Mr. Thomas' article will be found at URL http://www.nizkor.org/ftp.cgi?people/nyms/dthomas/1996/dthom as-on-web-discussion.

19. Another fundamental difference is that articles on the Web are not archived. Because a webpage says one thing one day, that does not mean it will say the same thing the next day. There is no authority to which one can turn that will provide a record of what was said when by whom.

20. Unless agreement is reached to not re-edit pages once uploaded, this makes discussion of complex subjects nearly impossible. Ernst Zundel has often mentioned "debate" on the web. What sort of "debate" allows people to revise what they have said, after the fact, perhaps without their opponent even being aware of the change? This is one certain method for avoiding public accountability, as interactivity is denied.

21. These differences are those of a discussion medium (Usenet) and a publishing medium (the Web).

22. It is important, too, to note another design limitation of the web. The concept of "hypertext" was developed in the 1960s by Ted Nelson. Nelson's vision was a worldwide information network called "Xanadu," which would link written material of all forms. An author would write about a given topic and add links to other materials which he found interesting. This vision had great influence on later hypertext systems, including the most successful, the world-wide web.

23. But the design for Xanadu called for these links to be bidirectional. Readers of an author's work could call up not only a list of links which that author recommended, but also a list of other works which linked to his work. Nelson's vision included a computerized network in which books or scientific articles would be published on-line, and readers could, with the push of a button, call up a list of criticisms of those works.

24. This was an important innovation. Because of this feature, the reader could rarely be "lost in the ideasphere"-- there would be few dead-ends in the network. Any work which was significant enough to be seen by more than a few readers would surely be reviewed or at least commented-upon by some of them, and those reviews would always be readily accessible.

25. For technical reasons, this feature was not built into the web. There is no automatic way, when reading a web page, to know what critiques of that page have been written elsewhere on the web. To learn of such critiques, the reader must rely on the Web-page's author to provide an accurate and periodically-updated list of such critiques. Mr. Zundel does not provide a reader with any of the available critiques.

26. Manually listing critiques in such a way works well when an author and his critics are interested in working together for a common cause, or at least respect each other. This ad- hoc replacement for Nelson's vision of bidirectional linking is an acceptable and working solution in, for example, an academic environment where a researcher will create links from his papers to his colleagues' rebuttals. In such an atmosphere, where there is a tradition of peer review, a strong commitment to open examination of and discourse regarding theories and facts, and a knowledgeable reader, one can generally trust that the author is not deliberately obscuring electronic rebuttals which would be inconvenient.

27. Doing so would be the equivalent of writing a paper which ignores the strongest arguments against its thesis, with the hope that the reader will not be aware of them. This is not done in scholarly circles, as the reader is likely to be knowledgeable enough to detect such omission, and because such academic dishonesty is frowned upon.

28. The failure to employ the Web's ad-hoc replacement for bidirectional linking in the case of Mr. Zundel and his colleagues has denied the very interactivity claimed. The quality of cooperation between author and critic - the joint effort towards the common cause of historical accuracy and understanding - is not present with regard to Mr. Zundel's Web site, or others espousing Holocaust denial.


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