Content Block


Why quoting Hitler in Daily Mail comments is fun but meaningless

Just because it feels good doesn't make it right

Two utterly uncontroversial assertions to begin (because I know how to hook the readers)

1: Below the line comments on news articles can be horrible.

2: The discourse around the current situation with people in the Calais “jungle” attempting to enter Britain is, well, dispiriting.

With this in mind, the people who run the Daily Mail reporter and Daily Mail Comments twitter accounts set out to make a point about a) what they perceive as the particular horror of that newspaper’s commenters section and b) how low our the discussion about immigration and asylum has sunk.

To this end, they set about posting quotes from Hitler and other prominent Nazis in the comments under stories about Calais:

Exhibit A was a quote from Nazi Robert Ley:

"In this struggle against Judah, there’s only a clear either/or. Any half measure leads to one’s own destruction. Judah and its world must die if humanity wants to live; there is no other choice than to fight a pitiless battle against the Jews in every form".

This was variously edited by the intrepid experimenters into two separate comments, with references to Jews replaced with references to migrants:

As we can see, both proved quite popular with fellow commenters, with plenty of upvotes.

The problem with this game is that the word one is replacing is usually the most important word. The sentiment expressed matters in the context of who it is being said about. Ley’s Nazi comments were about Jews, and sprung from a specific anti-Semitic understanding that there had to be a final reckoning between Aryans and Jews.

And we all know what happened after that.

As the authors point out in their post, far nastier, more specific things have been said about people migrating to Europe than the belligerent, but vague tone achieved by replacing “Jew” with “migrant”.

The experiment strays even further from its purpose with the posting of quotes from Adolf Hitler:

This first one is, in the context of a thread about migration, readable both ways: maybe it’s “Britain must defend its borders”, or maybe it’s “people should be admired for the efforts they’ve made to build a better life in Europe”. In all likelihood, people upvoting it would be of the former opinion.

The second, above, could mean absolutely anything out of its context. In context, the battle that Hitler is proposing must be waged is against venereal disease (though, in his inimitable way, Hitler’s solution for venereal disease appears to be to round up the afflicted in camps (“For, if necessary, the incurably sick will be pitilessly segregated - a barbaric measure for the unfortunate who is struck by it, but a blessing for his fellow men and posterity.”)

The authors sign off with a flourish: “It seems the migration debate has evolved to a place where even certified hate speech can pass for popular political opinion!”

And this is the heart of the problem with the experiment: the idea that, by upvoting words spoken or written by a Nazi, shorn of context, off topic, and in some places, with the words themselves altered, one is acquiescing with “certified hate speech” is misleading, not least because the idea of “certified hate speech” is misleading.

Hate speech is a concept which entirely hinges on context. Quoting a Nazi does not in itself make one a Nazi; agreeing with some words once spoken by a Nazi, but not attributed to a Nazi, and on entirely different topic, does not really mean anything, unless one is willing to attribute absolute values to individual phrases outside of any context.=

A friend of mine used to post quotes from The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion on Guardian comment threads: again, it kept him amused, but it was ultimately pretty pointless.

Meanwhile, one more example of the danger of Reductio Ad Hitlerium. Someone thought this was clever.




Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms. He is Director of Editorial at 89up and has written and ghostwritten for The Evening Standard, The Guardian, The Observer, The Irish Times, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, The Sun, and The Irish Post.

Related Posts