Sacha Baron Cohen rips Facebook, Twitter, Google as 'greatest propaganda machine in history'

Comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen ripped the country's largest technology companies as the "greatest propaganda machine in history" while accepting an award from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Thursday night.

Cohen blamed the leaders of Silicon Valley's top companies for allowing racism and extremism to spread across their platforms, which reach billions of people worldwide.

Pointing out that hate crimes are on the rise in the U.S., Cohen said, "All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history."

ADVERTISEMENT

"Think about it," Cohen, a satirist known for railing against bigotry, said. "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."

"And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history—the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous," Cohen said at the event hosted by the ADL, one of the leading Jewish organizations in the U.S.

“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’.

Cohen's speech comes as companies like Twitter, Google's YouTube and Facebook have faced enormous and intensifying pressure to deal with continued extreme and often hateful content on their social networks.

The actor criticized YouTube for amplifying the voices of right-wing extremists, hit Twitter for failing to remove white supremacists and went after Facebook for enabling the spread of fake news.

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

ADVERTISEMENT

He pointed fingers at the individuals running the companies: Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergOverwhelming majority say social media companies have too much influence: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Facebook tells Trump administration it will not create messaging 'backdoor' for law enforcement MORE, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, YouTube chief 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 said. "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."

YouTube declined to comment on Cohen's speech, while a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement that "Sacha Baron Cohen misrepresented Facebook’s policies." 

"Hate speech is actually banned on our platform. We ban people who advocate for violence and we remove anyone who praises or supports it. Nobody – including politicians – can advocate or advertise hate, violence or mass murder on Facebook," the spokesperson added.

A Twitter spokesperson said the company bans hateful conduct, terrorist organizations and violent extremist groups. "Because of these rules, we’ve permanently suspended the accounts of 186 groups, half of which advocate violence against civilians alongside some form of extremist white supremacist ideology," the spokesperson said.

Each of the companies have taken steps to address the growing criticism that they have not done enough to combat toxic content.

Facebook last week announced it has pulled down millions of posts over the past three months for violating its policies against hate speech and child exploitation, marking an increase in the number of posts it took action against since its last transparency report.

And earlier this year, YouTube updated its hate speech policies to bar supremacist content, leading to a significant spike in the number of videos and channels the platform took down. 

During his speech, Cohen specifically criticized Zuckerberg, who has argued that Facebook should allow misinformation in political advertisements. Zuckerberg said he believes it is an issue of free expression and corporations should not police political speech.

"This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech," Cohen said in response. "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," Cohen said. "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."

Updated: 6:14 p.m.