Actor Sacha Baron Cohen, Who Tricks People for a Living, Attacks Big Tech for Pushing Lies

An actor-comedian who has made trickery and deceit the centerpiece of his career is taking Facebook to task for allowing others to do the same on social media.

Sacha Baron Cohen became famous duping unsuspecting people for laughs in the guise of hip-hop host Ali G, fashion reporter Brüno and Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev.

In 2018, Cohen — impersonating a reporter — tried to bait former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski into making comments supporting the actions of the far right in the 2017 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Other stunts included pretending to be someone else in an effort to persuade a California gun dealer to sell him a gun and trying to double-talk former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

But in a speech given Thursday after receiving the Anti-Defamation League’s International Leadership Award, he attacked social media for spreading false information.

“Today around the world, demagogues appeal to our worst instincts,” Cohen 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 increasingly delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed.

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“Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march.  Hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.”

He then laid the blame for the state of the world at the door of social media companies.

“All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history. The greatest propaganda machine in history,” Cohen said, citing Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter.

As a result, he said, “the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history — the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous. As one headline put it, ‘Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.’”

Cohen later said that America is suffering from the spread of theories with which he disagrees.

“Americans will vote for president while trolls and bots perpetuate the disgusting lie of a ‘Hispanic invasion,’” he said. “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.”

Cohen then turned his focus on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, attacking recent comments Zuckerberg made about how Facebook tries to police its site without choking off free speech completely.

“This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech,” he said. “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.

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“Sadly, there will always be racists, misogynists, anti-Semites and child abusers. 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.”

In discussing free speech and its limits, Cohen had an analogy ready.

“If a neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening other customers and saying he wants to kill Jews, would the owner of the restaurant be required to serve him an elegant eight-course meal? Of course not!” he said. “The restaurant owner has every legal right and a moral obligation to kick the Nazi out, and so do these internet companies.”

Do you trust social media companies to censor content without blocking political speech?

The fact that the world’s major tech companies are owned by a handful of people also drew Cohen’s ire.

“The Silicon Six — all billionaires, all Americans — who care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy,” he 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. It’s like we’re living in the Roman Empire, and Mark Zuckerberg is Caesar. At least that would explain his haircut.”

The actor lambasted Facebook for its hands-off policy in political advertising.

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

He said CEOs of tech companies should pay a higher price when the content they allow triggers violence.

“Maybe it’s time to tell Mark Zuckerberg and the CEOs of these companies: ‘You already allowed one foreign power to interfere in our elections, you already facilitated one genocide in Myanmar, do it again and you go to jail,’” Cohen said, referring to the use of Facebook to incite violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.

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', .jw-above-container.stuck:not( .never-stick ) .jw-sticky-container' : '' ) ).last(); let wnhc = wnhc_j.length ? wnhc_j.offset().top + wnhc_j.outerHeight() : 0; FFADS.debug( 'WNHC bottom is ' + wnhc ); let slide_units = document.querySelectorAll( '.sponsor > div.fixed-size.sliding > div' ); for( let i = 0; i < slide_units.length; i++ ) { FFADS.debug( 'checking margin for' ); FFADS.debug( slide_units[i] ); if( ! slide_units[i].firstElementChild ) break; this_unit_j = jQuery( slide_units[i] ); let max_margin = slide_units[i].parentElement.offsetHeight - slide_units[i].firstElementChild.offsetHeight; FFADS.debug( 'max margin is ' + max_margin ); let distance = wnhc - this_unit_j.parent().offset().top; if( distance > max_margin ) { slide_units[i].style.position = 'static'; slide_units[i].style.paddingTop = max_margin + 'px'; } else if( distance < 0 ) { slide_units[i].style.position = 'static'; slide_units[i].style.paddingTop = '0px'; } else if( slide_units[i].style.position != 'fixed' ) { slide_units[i].style.left = jQuery( slide_units[i].firstChild ).offset().left + 'px'; slide_units[i].style.position = 'fixed'; slide_units[i].style.paddingTop = '0px'; slide_units[i].style.top = jQuery( '#wpadminbar' ).outerHeight() + jQuery( '#wj-network-header-container' ).outerHeight() + ( window.innerWidth < 944 ? jQuery( '.jw-above-container.stuck:not( .never-stick ) .jw-sticky-container' ).outerHeight() : 0 ) + 'px'; } } for( let i = 0; i < FFADS.content_order.length; i++ ) { let ad_unit_id = FFADS.content_order[i]; let ad_unit = ad_unit_id.split( '_' )[0]; if( ! FFADS.units[ad_unit].repeating ) { if( checkAlmostVisible( document.getElementById( ad_unit_id ), FFADS.lazy_load_threshold ) ) { FFADS.debug( ad_unit_id + ' is almost visible' ); FFADS.content_order.splice( i, 1 ); // splice first in case render_ad fails FFADS.render_ad( ad_unit, ad_unit_id ); } else break; } else for( var j = 0; j < FF_REP_COUNT; j++ ) { let div_id = 'REP_' + j; if( ! FFADS.units[ad_unit].instances[div_id].displayed ) { if( checkAlmostVisible( document.getElementById( div_id ), FFADS.lazy_load_threshold ) ) { FFADS.debug( div_id + ' is almost visible' ); if( j == FF_REP_COUNT - 1 ) FFADS.content_order.splice( i, 1 ); // splice first in case render_ad fails FFADS.render_ad( ad_unit, div_id ); } else break; } } } if( typeof ffsid != 'undefined' && ! FFADS.spot_im_displayed && checkAlmostVisible( document.getElementById( 'respond' ), FFADS.lazy_load_threshold ) ) { var ffrespond = document.getElementById( 'respond' ); var simscript1 = document.createElement( 'script' ); var simscript2 = document.createElement( 'script' ); simscript1.async = simscript2.async = 'async'; simscript1.type = simscript2.type = 'text/javascript'; simscript1.src = 'https://recirculation.spot.im/spot/' + ffsid; simscript2.src = 'https://launcher.spot.im/spot/' + ffsid; simscript2.dataset.spotimModule = 'spotim-launcher'; simscript2.dataset.postUrl = simscript2.dataset.facebookUrl = ffsurl; simscript2.dataset.postId = ffspid; ffrespond.appendChild( simscript1 ); ffrespond.appendChild( simscript2 ); FFADS.spot_im_displayed = true; } if( window.innerWidth > 943 ) for( let i = 0; i < FFADS.sidebar_order.length; i++ ) { let ad_unit_code = FFADS.sidebar_order[i]; if( checkAlmostVisible( document.getElementById( ad_unit_code ), FFADS.lazy_load_threshold ) ) { FFADS.debug( ad_unit_code + ' is almost visible' ); FFADS.sidebar_order.splice( i, 1 ); FFADS.render_ad( ad_unit_code ); } else break; } } var pbjs = pbjs || {}; pbjs.que = pbjs.que || [ function() { FFADS.debug( 'pbjs.que starting' ); } ]; pbjs.bidderSettings = { standard: { bidCpmAdjustment: function( bidCpm, bid ) { let screen_size = window.innerWidth < 944 ? 'SMSX' : 'LGSX'; let factor = 1.0; if( typeof FFADS.units[bid.adUnitCode].scales[screen_size][bid.bidderCode] != 'undefined' ){ factor -= FFADS.units[bid.adUnitCode].scales[screen_size][bid.bidderCode]; FFADS.debug( 'factor for ' + bid.bidderCode + ' in ' + bid.adUnitCode + ' set to ' + factor + '; bid changed from ' + bidCpm + ' to ' + ( bidCpm *= factor ) ); } return bidCpm; } } }; pbjs.que.push(function() { pbjs.enableAnalytics( { provider: 'roxot', options: { publisherIds: ["556182c7-ac68-4d56-8c66-4b4336e28e5e"] } } ); pbjs.setConfig( { priceGranularity: "high", userSync: { iframeEnabled: true, filterSettings: { iframe: { bidders: ['openx', 'pubmatic'], filter: 'include' } } } } ); FFADS.debug( 'adding units to PB' ); FFADS.debug( FFADS.pb_units ); pbjs.addAdUnits( FFADS.pb_units ); let adUnitCodes = []; for( let ad_unit in FFADS.units ) if( ! FFADS.units[ad_unit].lazy_load ) adUnitCodes.push( ad_unit ); FFADS.debug( 'requesting PB bids for initial units' ); pbjs.requestBids({ bidsBackHandler: FFADS.pbjs_bids_back, adUnitCodes: adUnitCodes }); }); function sendInitialAdserverRequest() { if( FFADS.initialAdserverRequestSent ) return; FFADS.initialAdserverRequestSent = true; FFADS.debug( 'queuing DFP request for initial units' ); googletag.cmd.push(function() { pbjs.que.push(function() { FFADS.debug( 'sending DFP request for initial units' ); let adUnitCodes = []; let dfpAdUnits = []; for( let ad_unit in FFADS.units ) if( ! FFADS.units[ad_unit].lazy_load ) { if( FFADS.units[ad_unit].ad_type == 'hybrid' ) { let pb_bid = pbjs.getHighestCpmBids( ad_unit ); pb_bid = pb_bid.length ? pb_bid[0].cpm : 0; FFADS.debug( 'Prebid bid ' + pb_bid + ' for ' + ad_unit ); if( pb_bid < FFADS.units[ad_unit].custom_ads[0].cpm ) { FFADS.debug( 'Custom code won for ' + ad_unit ); let el = false; if( el = document.getElementById( ad_unit ) ) { el.innerHTML = FFADS.units[ad_unit].custom_ads[0].code; eval( FFADS.units[ad_unit].custom_ads[0].rendering_script ); } else FFADS.debug( 'failed to render custom code in ' + ad_unit + ' since the unit is not on this page' ); continue; } } adUnitCodes.push( ad_unit ); dfpAdUnits.push( FFADS.units[ad_unit].instances[ad_unit].gt_slot ); } pbjs.setTargetingForGPTAsync( adUnitCodes ); apstag.setDisplayBids(); googletag.pubads().refresh( dfpAdUnits ); }); }); } FFADS.debug( 'scheduling DFP request for initial units' ); setTimeout( function() { sendInitialAdserverRequest(); }, FFADS.prebid_timeout ); (function () { var gads = document.createElement('script'); gads.async = true; gads.type = 'text/javascript'; var useSSL = 'https:' == document.location.protocol; gads.src = (useSSL ? 'https:' : 'http:') + '//www.googletagservices.com/tag/js/gpt.js'; var node = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; node.parentNode.insertBefore(gads, node); })(); var googletag = googletag || {}; googletag.cmd = googletag.cmd || [ function() { FFADS.debug( 'googletag.cmd starting' ); } ]; googletag.cmd.push( function() { googletag.pubads().disableInitialLoad(); for( let ad_unit in FFADS.units ) if( ! FFADS.units[ad_unit].lazy_load && ( FFADS.units[ad_unit].ad_type == 'dfp_prebid' || FFADS.units[ad_unit].ad_type == 'hybrid' ) ) { FFADS.debug( 'defining slot for ' + ad_unit + ' #' + ad_unit ); FFADS.units[ad_unit].instances[ad_unit].gt_slot = googletag.defineSlot( FFADS.get_unit_path( ad_unit ), FFADS.units[ad_unit].sizes, ad_unit ).addService( googletag.pubads() ); } googletag.pubads().enableSingleRequest(); firefly_setTargeting(); googletag.pubads().setCentering(true); googletag.enableServices(); } ); function sendSingleAdserverRequest( ad_unit, div_id = false ) { div_id = div_id || ad_unit; if( FFADS.units[ad_unit].instances[div_id].adserverRequestSent ) return; FFADS.units[ad_unit].instances[div_id].adserverRequestSent = true; if( FFADS.units[ad_unit].ad_type == 'hybrid' ) { let pb_bid = pbjs.getHighestCpmBids( div_id ); pb_bid = pb_bid.length ? pb_bid[0].cpm : 0; FFADS.debug( 'Prebid bid ' + pb_bid + ' for #' + div_id ); if( pb_bid < FFADS.units[ad_unit].custom_ads[0].cpm ) { FFADS.debug( 'Custom code won for #' + div_id ); document.getElementById( div_id ).innerHTML = FFADS.units[ad_unit].custom_ads[0].code; eval( FFADS.units[ad_unit].custom_ads[0].rendering_script ); return; } } apstag.setDisplayBids(); pbjs.setTargetingForGPTAsync( [div_id] ); FFADS.debug( 'sending DFP request for ' + ad_unit + ' #' + div_id ); googletag.pubads().refresh( [FFADS.units[ad_unit].instances[div_id].gt_slot] ); } function firefly_pbjs_bids_back_single( ad_unit, div_id = false ) { div_id = div_id || ad_unit; FFADS.debug( 'PB bids back for ' + ad_unit + ' #' + div_id ); window['firefly_pbjs_ready' + ad_unit] = true; if( window['firefly_a9_ready' + ad_unit] ) return sendSingleAdserverRequest( ad_unit, div_id ); } function firefly_a9_bids_back_single( ad_unit, div_id = false ) { div_id = div_id || ad_unit; FFADS.debug( 'A9 bids back for ' + ad_unit + ' #' + div_id ); window['firefly_a9_ready' + ad_unit] = true; if( window['firefly_pbjs_ready' + ad_unit] ) return sendSingleAdserverRequest( ad_unit, div_id ); } !function(a9,a,p,s,t,A,g){if(a[a9])return;function q(c,r){a[a9]._Q.push([c,r])}a[a9]={init:function(){q("i",arguments)},fetchBids:function(){q("f",arguments)},setDisplayBids:function(){},targetingKeys:function(){return[]},_Q:[]};A=p.createElement(s);A.async=!0;A.src=t;g=p.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];g.parentNode.insertBefore(A,g)}("apstag",window,document,"script","//c.amazon-adsystem.com/aax2/apstag.js"); apstag.init({ pubID: 'da224ee9-07c8-4a80-87e4-528df4ac939e', adServer: 'googletag', bidTimeout: FFADS.prebid_timeout }); var a9_slot_arr = []; for( var ad_unit in FFADS.units ) { if( ! FFADS.units[ad_unit].lazy_load ) var a9_slot_arr = a9_slot_arr.concat( [ { slotID: ad_unit, slotName: FFADS.get_unit_path( ad_unit ), sizes: FFADS.units[ad_unit].sizes } ] ); }; FFADS.debug( 'requesting A9 bids for initial units' ); apstag.fetchBids( { slots: a9_slot_arr }, function( bids ) { FFADS.debug( 'A9 bids back for initial units' ); FFADS.a9_ready = true; if( FFADS.pbjs_ready ) return sendInitialAdserverRequest(); } );

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