Sacha Baron Cohen has denounced tech giants Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google as “the greatest propaganda machine in history” and culpable for a surge in “murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities”.
Baron Cohen was speaking on Thursday at Never Is Now, the Anti-Defamation League’s summit on antisemitism and hate in New York, where he was presented with the organisation’s international leadership award. He said that “hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities” and that “all this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history”.
He added: “The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged – stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth … As one headline put it, just think what Goebbels could have done with Facebook.”
“If you pay them, Facebook will run any ‘political’ ad you want, even if it’s a lie,” he said. “And they’ll even help you micro-target those lies to their users for maximum effect. Under this twisted logic, if Facebook were around in the 1930s, it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his ‘solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem’.”
Baron Cohen went on to attack Mark Zuckerberg’s defence of Facebook as a bastion of “free expression”. He said: “I think we could all agree that we should not be giving bigots and paedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target their victims.” Baron Cohen also criticised Facebook’s decision not to remove Holocaust deniers, saying: “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 also called for internet companies to be held responsible for their content. “It’s time to finally call these companies what they really are – the largest publishers in history. And here’s an idea for them: abide by basic standards and practices just like newspapers, magazines and TV news do every day.”
“Internet companies can now be held responsible for paedophiles who use their sites to target children. I say, let’s also hold these companies responsible for those who use their sites to advocate for the mass murder of children because of their race or religion. And maybe fines are not enough. Maybe it’s time to tell Mark Zuckerberg and the CEOs of these companies: you already allowed one foreign power to interfere in our elections, you already facilitated one genocide in Myanmar, do it again and you go to jail.”