Sacha Baron Cohen Calls Major Tech Platforms "the Greatest Propaganda Machine in History"

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Sacha Baron Cohen

The comic actor criticized Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday as he received an award from the Anti-Defamation League.

Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen used an award reception on Thursday to call out Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter for facilitating "hate and violence."

Calling the tech platforms "the greatest propaganda machine in history," he said: "I believe it’s time for a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies and lies. ... The truth is, these companies won’t fundamentally change because their entire business model relies on generating more engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage."

Cohen on Thursday addressed an audience at the Anti-Defamation League's Never Is Now Summit in New York as he received the International Leadership Award for "brilliantly [using] satire to expose racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism."

In response to comments made recently by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Cohen said: "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. Sadly, there will always be racists, misogynists, anti-Semites and child abusers. But I think we could all agree that we should not be giving bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target their victims."

Pushing back on the notion that platforms like Facebook should facilitate free speech above all else, he said, "We’re not asking these companies to determine the boundaries of free speech across society. We just want them to be responsible on their platforms."

In addition to criticizing Zuckerberg, Cohen called out Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

"The Silicon Six — all billionaires, all Americans — who care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy," Cohen told the crowd. "This is ideological imperialism — six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law. It’s like we’re living in the Roman Empire, and Mark Zuckerberg is Caesar."

Cohen said the big tech companies should hire more employees to monitor the content, "insist on facts and purge these lies and conspiracies from their platforms."

He added, "These are the richest companies in the world, and they have the best engineers in the world. They could fix these problems if they wanted to."

Cohen said the major tech platforms are "publishers" and should abide by the standards that media companies are held to. "We have standards and practices in television and the movies; there are certain things we cannot say or do," he said. "In England, I was told that Ali G could not curse when he appeared before 9 p.m. Here in the U.S., the Motion Picture Association of America regulates and rates what we see. I’ve had scenes in my movies cut or reduced to abide by those standards. If there are standards and practices for what cinemas and television channels can show, then surely companies that publish material to billions of people should have to abide by basic standards and practices, too."