RechercheBad Reads: Holocaust denial, antisemitism and terror propaganda on popular Amazon book platform

Amazon's Goodreads is the leading website for book fans worldwide. However, "Goodreads" is also used to circulate Holocaust-denying propaganda, instructions on how to build weapons and terrorist propaganda. A democ investigation shows that the platform only takes little action against such content.

by Karolin Schwarz

Current and prospective readers of "Mein Kampf". Screenshot: „Goodreads“

Update from July 10, 2024: In response to a further inquiry by "Der Spiegel", Goodreads has now removed genres such as "Holohoax" and "Jewish Question". The antisemitic book "Der Giftpilz" (The Poisonous Mushroom) also no longer appears in the search results.

10,800 "Goodreads" users are currently reading "Mein Kampf" by Adolf Hitler. 75,300 have added the book to their reading list. It has been rated more than 40,000 times. Total rating: 3.18 out of 5 stars. "Goodreads" also recommends other books by Adolf Hitler. Clicking through the reviews doesn't take long to find more Nazi propaganda: writings by Goebbels and Himmler are also listed. Users who rated "Mein Kampf" with five stars also left reviews for books by Holocaust deniers or writings often promoted within the right-wing terror scene.

Book recommendations on the page of "Mein Kampf". Screenshot: "Goodreads"

"Goodreads" is a social network for book lovers. Users can track the books they have read, participate in reading challenges and interact with others. It's also about finding new reading material - "Goodreads" has been under Amazon's umbrella since 2013. Book pages often link to Amazon and other shops where the respective book can be purchased. "Goodreads" is a popular service in Germany, too. Some German-language bestselling novels have been rated more than 10,000 times and reviewed hundreds of times in German.

In addition to popular novels and non-fiction bestsellers, "Goodreads" also catalogues terror propaganda, Holocaust denial, antisemitism and weapons-making instructions.

Plenty of room for hatred

The most obvious way of spreading antisemitic, anti-queer and other dehumanising content on "Goodreads" is through the listing of books in the platform's public catalogue. In addition to Hitler's "Mein Kampf", numerous other antisemitic writings such as the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" or the Nazi propaganda book "Der Giftpilz" ("The poisonous mushroom"), published by Julius Streicher, are listed in several languages. A search for the "Protocols" in Arabic also leads to file-sharing portals where the book can be downloaded. "Goodreads" also lists numerous writings by Holocaust deniers such as David Duke, Ernst Zündel and Fred A. Leuchter. Although the books cannot be accessed and read directly on "Goodreads", in several cases the book descriptions already contain Holocaust denying claims.

Users can not only add books, they can also post quotes from books. In the case of "Mein Kampf", more than 350 quotes from the book have been added. Furthermore, several reviews contain links to websites where books can be read or downloaded.

Book recommendations on the page featuring the antisemitic Nazi children's book "Der Giftpilz" ("The poisonous mushroom"). Screenshot: "Goodreads"

Reviews on the platform are repeatedly used as a forum for Holocaust denial or the glorification of Hitler. These kinds of comments, which are a criminal offence in Germany, can be found not only in reviews of relevant Nazi literature, but also in negative reviews of the "Diary of Anne Frank" or the "Maus" comics by Art Spiegelman.

Users are also using their profiles to share quotes from "Mein Kampf" and other far-right and National Socialist writings. Several profiles identified by democ feature quotes by Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler. Usernames such as "Heydrich" or profile pictures depicting far-right propaganda or users posing with weapons can also be found.

"Goodreads offers its users the option of creating their own lists of books, which in turn are used as book genres across the platform. While the genre "Climate Change Denial" mainly contains books that are critical of denying the climate crisis, "Holocaust Denial" mainly contains publications denying the Holocaust. Other clearly far-right, antisemitic and Nazi-glorifying genres such as "Jewish Question", "ᛋᛋ-books" or "terrorgram", named after the loose, terror-glorifying network on Telegram, have also been added. One genre that is particularly unambiguous is "holohoax". The term is used by Holocaust deniers worldwide to refer to the Shoah as a "hoax".

Books filed under the genres "Holohoax" and "Jewish Question". Screenshot: "Goodreads"

Terrorist propaganda on "Goodreads"

Besides antisemitic, inflammatory and Holocaust-denying writings, right-wing extremists and Islamists spread content on "Goodreads" calling for terrorist attacks. Examples include the pamphlets of the right-wing terrorists behind the Charleston and Christchurch attacks and the misogynist terrorist from Isla Vista. One of the reviews of Brenton T.'s terror propaganda, who murdered 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, reads: "I loved this book. Brenton [T.] is a hero. Every white, young and old, should read this book."

"Goodreads" also lists several writings glorifying violence that originated from the now closed neo-Nazi forum "Ironmarch". James Mason's "Siege" is also available via the site's search function. This collection of writings is among the readings of several right-wing terrorists and their supporters. In addition to extremely racist and antisemitic content, "Siege" also contains calls for terrorist attacks and instructions on how such attacks could be carried out. One review reads: "An awesome primer for lone wolf operations". A manual from Al-Qaeda can also be found in the "Goodreads" catalogue, as well as various books containing instructions on how to build weapons and bombs.

Very little moderation

"Goodreads" is likely aware that terror propaganda exists on the platform: In 2021, its parent company Amazon removed the far-right "Turner Diaries", which, like "Siege", contains calls for attacks, from its catalogue. As a result, "Goodreads" also edited the listings for the book, making the page accessible to this day, but no longer containing the book title or author's name. A number of the publications from the Ironmarch forum contain information indicating that they do not meet the guidelines for the "Goodreads" catalogue and can therefore no longer be rated or reviewed. The same warning also appears above the propaganda of the Christchurch terrorist. Terror-glorifying reviews are still available on the site and can be found after a quick scroll. The publication can also still be added to the "Want to read" list or added to genres.

In any case, "Goodreads" makes it difficult for its users to report content on the platform directly. It only allows reports of reviews and users via a button. Quotes, books or book genres, on the other hand, cannot be reported on the platform directly.

Democ identified and reported 80 reviews containing Holocaust denial, Nazi or terror propaganda, calls for violence and antisemitism. After ten days, only one of the reviews was no longer online. After a total of two weeks, eleven of the 80 reported reviews were gone. What criteria were applied to remove content is not clear: Content that denies the Holocaust or glorifies right-wing terrorist attacks can still be accessed.

"Goodreads" did not respond to democ's questions about the 80 reported reviews, more than 100 books, the "holohoax" genre, and the platform's moderation practices at the time this article was published.

Parent company Amazon has also been repeatedly subject to criticism in the past, for instance for selling right-wing extremist publications or stickers.

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