In Speech, Sacha Baron Cohen Sharply Criticizes Facebook

His address to the ADL attacked “the greatest propaganda machine in history”

Sacha Baron Cohen
In a recent speech, Sacha Baron Cohen criticized Facebook for the spread of hate speech and conspiracies.

Like many a great satirist, Sacha Baron Cohen has an excellent sense of history. While that’s not required to make notable comedy, it certainly doesn’t hurt — and for someone who’s made their career out of addressing societal flaws, bigotry and hypocrisy, that historical awareness has made his work resonate particularly deeply.

Turns out Baron Cohen’s knowledge of history has other uses as well. On Thursday, he spoke at the Anti-Defamation League’s Never is Now event, where he received the International Leadership Award. He began the address with a modest joke at his own expense, saying, “this is the first time that I have ever stood up and given a speech as my least popular character, Sacha Baron Cohen.”

But soon, the tone of his speech shifted to a more urgent register, as he addressed the way that the internet has aided the weakening of democracy and the increase of bigotry and hate crimes around the world. “All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history,” Baron Cohen said — focusing in especially on Facebook.

In his speech, Baron Cohen draws upon his own experiences on different projects to illustrate how conspiracy theories spread on social media have radicalized numerous people. “Voltaire was right, ‘those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities,’” he said. “And social media lets authoritarians push absurdities to billions of people.”

Baron Cohen makes a convincing case for “a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies and lies.” His speech also includes praise for both Twitter and Google for regulating political ads — and a measured, logical argument for why Facebook should do the same. It’s an urgent argument that’s powerfully made — and hopefully, someone in a position to effect change is listening. 

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