- Actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen gave an address to the Anti-Defamation League about the spread of hate speech.
- Baron Cohen said big tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google facilitate the spread of hate speech and lies, making up “the greatest propaganda machine in history.”
- He said the internet treats ‘the rantings of a lunatic’ as equal to statements made by a Nobel Prize winner, essentially killing the idea of shared, basic facts that everyone agrees on.
- Although the speech criticised big tech as a whole, Baron Cohen went after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in particular.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
“Borat” actor Sacha Baron Cohen launched a full-throated attack against tech companies for allowing hate speech to proliferate on their platforms in a 25-minute speech to the Anti-Defamation League on Thursday night.
Baron Cohen said a “handful of internet companies” are facilitating what he called “the greatest propaganda machine in history.”
Although Baron Cohen mentioned Google, Twitter, and Facebook in his speech, his sharpest criticism was reserved for Mark Zuckerberg.
Baron Cohen referred back to a speech Zuckerberg gave at Georgetown University last month outlining where he thinks Facebook should draw the line on regulating free speech on its platform. Baron Cohen dismantled Zuckerberg’s speech point-by-point.
“First, Zuckerberg tried to portray this whole issue as ‘choices… around free expression.’ That is ludicrous. This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people, including some of the most reprehensible people on earth, the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet. Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach,” he said.
The comedian added that the First Amendment prevents the government from limiting free expression, but private companies have control over what they allow.
“If a neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening other customers and saying he wants kill Jews, would the owner of the restaurant be required to serve him an elegant eight-course meal? Of course not. The restaurant owner has every legal right and a moral obligation to kick the Nazi out, and so do these internet companies,” he said.
Baron Cohen also took issue with Zuckerberg’s stance on Holocaust-denial. In an interview with Kara Swisher last year Zuckerberg said although he finds Holocaust denial “deeply offensive” he won’t remove it from Facebook because it could be someone’s sincerely held belief. “I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong,” he said.
“We have millions of pieces of evidence for the Holocaust — it is an historical fact. And denying it is not some random opinion. Those who deny the Holocaust aim to encourage another one,” Baron Cohen said.
Baron Cohen also criticized Facebook over its decision to allow political ads on its platform even if they contain misinformation. “Fortunately, Twitter finally banned [political ads], and Google is making changes, too. But if you pay them, Facebook will run any ‘political’ ad you want, even if it’s a lie,” he said.
Baron Cohen made the suggestion that social media platforms should not immediately publish content and give themselves more time to scrutinize posts.
“The shooter who massacred Muslims in New Zealand livestreamed his atrocity on Facebook where it then spread across the internet and was viewed likely millions of times. It was a snuff film, brought to you by social media. Why can’t we have more of a delay so this trauma-inducing filth can be caught and stopped before it’s posted in the first place?”
Facebook rejected the idea that a time-delay could be placed on streamed videos following the Christchurch shooting, saying it would only serve to slow down Facebook’s response to violent content even more.
Baron Cohen also floated the idea that the internet’s treatment of ‘the rantings of a lunatic’ as equally credible to statements made by ‘a Nobel Prize winner’ meant a reduction in shared, basic facts that everyone agrees on. “Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march,” he said.
Giving some quarter, Baron Cohen said tech companies had made some attempts to combat bigotry on their platforms but that the measures taken have been “largely superficial.”
“When discussing the difficulty of removing content, Zuckerberg asked ‘Where do you draw the line?’ Yes, drawing the line can be difficult. But here’s what he’s really saying: removing more of these lies and conspiracies is just too expensive,” he said.
“If these internet companies really want to make a difference, they should hire enough monitors to actually monitor, work closely with groups like the ADL, insist on facts and purge these lies and conspiracies from their platforms,” he added. He also called for stricter regulation to allow the government to hold tech companies to account.
As the situation stands however, Baron Cohen said while the tech firms remain unregulated tech CEOs can exert a kind of “ideological imperialism.”
“It’s like we’re living in the Roman Empire, and Mark Zuckerberg is Caesar. At least that would explain his haircut,” he said. (Zuckerberg’s haircut has been the subject of some speculation.)