Sacha Baron Cohen Rips Into Facebook, YouTube and Twitter for Spreading Lies and Hate

Calling social media “the greatest propaganda machine in history,” and the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube “high-tech robber barons,” comedian Sacha Baron Cohen used a speech given to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) this week to call for much more stringent regulation of internet companies.

“By now, it’s pretty clear they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves,” Cohen said, adding that it may not be enough to just fine social media companies if they continue to provide a forum to bigotry and hate. Instead, he suggested, CEOs should be held personally liable if their products are used to interfere in elections, or enable genocide. “Do it again, and you’ll go to jail,” he said.

Cohen was awarded the International Leadership Award by the ADL Thursday. For his acceptance speech, he for once decided to not appear in character, or as he put it: “This is the first time I have given a speech as my least popular character — Sacha Baron Cohen.”

The comedian readily admitted that his comedy was frequently juvenile, and occasionally offensive. However, Cohen made the point that his jokes work because they help to shed a light on people’s prejudice — something that’s only possible if people accept facts as a shared truth, and recognize lies and hate when they see it.

That may not be possible for much longer if social media companies enable people to spread lies, he warned. “Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat,” Cohen said. “On the internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC.”

“A sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threaten our democracy — this can’t possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind,” he said.

Cohen singled out the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Alphabet co-founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey as responsible for spreading much of the hate and bigotry on the internet, calling them the “Silicon Six,” and proclaiming: “This is ideological imperialism.”

He went on to specifically criticize Zuckerberg, who recently linked Facebook’s policies to a defense of free speech around the world. “Some of these arguments are simply bulls***,” Cohen said, adding that private companies were not government entities. If restaurants could ban patrons, so could social media companies, he argued. “Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach.”

Cohen also referenced recent changes made by Twitter and Google to their political advertising policies. Twitter announced a few weeks ago that it would ban political advertising altogether, and Google said yesterday that it wouldn’t allow political advertisers to target audiences by affiliation anymore. Facebook has thus far resisted any such measures.

“If you pay them, Facebook will run any political ad they want, even if it’s a lie, and they will even help you micro-target those lies to their users for maximum effect,” Cohen said. “If Facebook were around in the 1930s, they would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his solution to the Jewish problem.”

He called on Facebook to change its political ad policy, and also suggested that Twitter should do more to ban white nationalists — something the company has reportedly been avoiding because of the fear that it may also have to ban some prominent Republicans. “Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing,” Cohen said.

Cohen went on to demand that social media companies invest more in content moderation, and that politicians to more tightly regulate these companies. “Their entire business model relies on generating more engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear and outrage,” Cohen said.

Popular on Variety

More Politics

  • Queen Elizabeth

    Queen Elizabeth's Footman Diagnosed with Coronavirus (Report)

    Coronavirus remains firmly in the royal orbit as one of Queen Elizabeth’s footmen has reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. The royal footman, who regularly walks the Queen’s dogs and was in regular contact with the monarch, is now in self-isolation after falling ill with coronavirus, according to British tabloid The Sun. The revelation comes just [...]

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

    House Passes $2 Trillion Coronavirus Bill as Lawmakers Promise Additional Aid

    The House of Representatives passed the $2 trillion stimulus package on Friday, even as lawmakers said another rescue package would be needed. The bill passed on a voice vote. President Donald Trump signed the measure on Friday afternoon in the Oval Office. Most Americans will receive a one-time payment of $1,200 plus $500 per child. [...]

  • Chuck Schumer

    Senate Approves Massive $2 Trillion Coronavirus Stimulus Bill

    The Senate voted on Wednesday to approve a $2 trillion bill to cushion the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, including hundreds of billions for companies and a massive expansion of unemployment benefits. The Senate voted 96-0 to approve the measure, after two votes earlier in week failed along party lines. The House of Representatives [...]

  • Mitch McConnell

    Senate Leaders Reach Deal on $2 Trillion Coronavirus Bill

    Senate leaders and the White House have reached a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus package, which includes a large increase in unemployment insurance and hundreds of billions of dollars to aid companies harmed by the coronavirus pandemic. Shortly before 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on the Senate floor [...]

  • Coronavirus India lockdown

    India's Prime Minister Orders Lockdown of Country of 1.3 Billion People for 21 Days

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India announced a sweeping, nationwide lockdown on Tuesday, declaring citizens across the country of 1.3 billion must stay at home for the next three weeks. Addressing the country for the second time in a week, the prime minister said the decree, which takes effect at midnight Tuesday, was a necessary [...]

  • White House Shutterstock

    White House Reporter Believed to Have Coronavirus

    A reporter who works at the White House is believed to have the novel coronavirus, the White House Correspondents’ Association said on Monday. In a memo to its members, the WHCA said the reporter was at the White House four times in the last two weeks: on March 9, 11, 16 and 18. “We encourage [...]

  • Coronavirus UK

    U.K. Declares Partial Coronavirus Lockdown, Bans Gatherings of More Than Two People

    U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson has declared a partial lockdown of the country, effective immediately. In an address broadcast to the nation on Monday evening, Johnson urged Britons to stay home to save lives. The prime minister forbade leaving home for anything apart from shopping for basic necessities like food and medicines, medical needs, one [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content