Actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has launched a blistering attack on social media companies over their failure to tackle the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation online.
In a speech to the Anti-Defamation League in New York, the Borat and Ali G creator said companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are the greatest propaganda machine in history.
He slammed Facebook for using free speech as an excuse for its failure to take responsibility for lies, misinformation and abusive messages posted to the platform.
He noted that the algorithms Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter rely on deliberately amplify content that keeps users engaged, stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear.
He said social media has become a “sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threatens democracy and our planet.”
Today around the world, demagogues appeal to our worst instincts, he said.
Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe are going mainstream. It’s as if the Age of Reason - the era of evidential argument is ending, and now knowledge is delegitimised and scientific consensus is dismissed.
He said the current status quo cannot possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind and called for a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies, and lies.
He welcomed Twitter’s recent decision to ban political ads and noted that “Google is making changes too” and pointed out that international tech giants are the richest companies in the world with resources to “fix these problems if they wanted to.”
Allow me to leave you with a suggestion for a different aim for society, he said.
If we make that our aim – if we prioritize 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.