Sacha Baron Cohen attacks Mark Zuckerberg for facilitating 'hate and violence' as he accepts ADL International Leadership Awards

Actor and comedian brands social media platforms 'the greatest propaganda machine in history'


Sacha Baron Cohen attacked Mark Zuckerberg and other social media CEOs for facilitating “hate and violence” in a speech to accept the Anti-Defamation League’s International Leadership Award.

The comedian and actor – best known for creating the Ali G and Borat characters – branded the world’s largest platforms “the greatest propaganda machine in history”.

Mr Baron Cohen took particular aim at Mr Zuckerberg, whose website he accused of publishing political advertisements without fact-checking.

He said: “All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.

“Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others – they reach billions of people. 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.

“If you pay them, Facebook will run any political ad you want, even if it’s a lie. 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’.

“So here’s a good standard and practice: Facebook, start fact-checking political ads before you run them, stop micro-targeted lies immediately, and when the ads are false, give back the money and don’t publish them.”

Mr Baron Cohen also used his speech to dismantle a recent address Mr Zuckerberg delivered at Georgetown University, in which he said one of his main goals was to “uphold as wide a definition of freedom of expression as possible.”

Mr Baron Cohen said: “Our freedoms are not only an end in themselves, they’re also the means to another end—as you say here in the US, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But today these rights are threatened by hate, conspiracies and lies.

“Allow me to leave you with a suggestion for a different aim for society.  The ultimate aim of society should be to make sure that people are not targeted, not harassed and not murdered because of who they are, where they come from, who they love or how they pray.

“If we make that our aim—if we prioritise truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference and experts over ignoramuses—then maybe, just maybe, we can stop the greatest propaganda machine in history, we can save democracy, we can still have a place for free speech and free expression, and, most importantly, my jokes will still work.”

The British actor’s speech followed an open letter written by Aaron Sorkin, the writer of The Social Network, in which he accused Mr Zuckerberg of helping to spread “crazy lies”.

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