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Tuesday, Sep 29, 2020

Masterpiece: Sacha Baron Cohen's scintillating attack on internet giants propaganda and fake-news machine

In 24 minutes, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen completely tore apart Facebook's defense for not policing disinformation that exists on its website.
Cohen also made the case to regulate the world's multi-billion-dollar tech companies like Google and YouTube, as well as the people who run them, who he called the "Silicon Six."

The entire speech is a must-watch, considering how many billions of people use products made by Facebook and Google every single day.

Sacha Baron Cohen has denounced tech giants as 'the greatest propaganda machine in history' and launched a scathing attack on Facebook in particular, condemning the platform's political ads' policy.

Speaking at the Anti-Defamation League's summit on antisemitism and hate, the actor said that 'if you pay them, the platform will run any "political" ad you want, even if it's a lie' and that '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'.

For context: Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian known for playing fake news reporters like "Ali G" and "Borat" for movies and TV shows, was chosen to give the keynote address at the Anti-Defamation League's 2019 Never is Now Summit in New York City.

In his opening remarks, Cohen connected the theme of the night — understanding and combating hate and anti-Semitism — with internet giants like Facebook and Google's parent company Alphabet.

"One thing is pretty clear to me: All this hate and violence [in the world] is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history," he said.

"Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter and others, they reach billions of people," Cohen continued. "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."

I don't want to just quote everything in the video for you, but if you need a little more help convincing yourself to watch this thing, there is just one more part towards the beginning of his speech worth highlighting. Cohen answers the all-important question: "Why speak up now?"

I'm speaking up today because I believe that our pluralistic democracies are on a precipice and that the next 12 months, and the role of social media, could be determinant. British voters will go to the polls while online conspiracists promote the despicable theory of "great replacement," that white Christians are being deliberately replaced by Muslim immigrants. Americans will vote for president while trolls and bots perpetuate the disgusting lie of a "Hispanic invasion." And after years of YouTube videos calling climate change a "hoax," the United States is on track, a year from now, to formally withdraw from the Paris Accords. A sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threatens democracy and our planet: this cannot possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind. I believe it's time for a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies and lies.

The rest of the video is filled with compelling arguments, including why internet companies need to admit that they are, in fact, publishers, why that matters, and why Facebook and others should adhere to standards and practices in the same way newspapers, magazines, and TV programs must follow the same rules in order to broadcast.

He also explains why cracking down on Facebook's behavior has nothing to do with freedom of speech, or expression, but why it's all about making 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 you — like me, and billions of other people around the world - mindlessly use tools like Facebook and YouTube on a daily basis because you're used to it, I highly recommend you watch every single minute of this video. You can also read the full transcript online, if that's your thing. It's funny! It's also incredibly smart and thoughtful. (Not surprising - Cohen went to Cambridge.) It's also only 24 minutes. What you do after watching this thing is up to you.

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