Denial, Memory Bans and Social Media

53 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2018

See all articles by Robert Kahn

Robert Kahn

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

Date Written: January 2018


We live in an age of ready availability of information… including hate speech, genocide denial and narratives of white supremacy. Encountering this information online can generate a feeling of uneasiness, even if one finds the offending material after a lengthy search. One possible response to this feeling of uneasiness is to ban the speech in question, and indeed many states have enacted restrictions on genocide denial and other denials of historical events (memory laws). In this paper, I examine memory laws in a social media age. The first section addresses the legal legitimacy of memory laws. These laws go beyond the traditional concern about incitement to hatred or violence that justifies hate speech bans. Next, I examine the effectiveness of memory bans. In a global internet age, states have opted for country-specific laws or global anti-denial campaigns. It is unclear, however, if either approach will succeed in removing all denialist content from the internet. At best, one can drive denial to the margins of society; one cannot remove it entirely. Finally, I turn to practical solutions. On the one hand, one can honor the memory threatened by denial, and try to restrict denial to corners of the web (as opposed to one’s virtual living room). In the end, however, the virtual world will likely continue to contain much we do not like, including denial. This requires a special type of tolerance, one based in resignation and rooted not in choice but in inevitability.

Keywords: social media, politics of memory, memory bans, genocide denial, counter-narratives, censorship

Suggested Citation

Kahn, Robert, Denial, Memory Bans and Social Media (January 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Robert Kahn (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States

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