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Sacha Baron Cohen Calls Big Tech The 'Greatest Propaganda Machine Ever'

Gettyimages | Astrid Stawiarz
By Lynne Versluys
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Taking On Silicon Valley

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Actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen gave a passionate speech at the Anti-Defamation League's Never Is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate, calling out Big Tech as the cause for the rise in demagogues, autocracy, and hate crimes in recent years.

"All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history. 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."

Not In Character

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Cohen, who received the ADL's International Leadership Award, wasn't in character for the night, which is a rarity for the comic. He cited recent comments from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who "not surprisingly, warned against new laws and regulations on companies like his. Well, some of these arguments are simply absurd."

"It’s time to finally call these companies what they really are—the largest publishers in history. And here’s an idea for them: abide by basic standards and practices just like newspapers, magazines and TV news do every day."

Asking For Responsibility

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Ultimately, Cohen is just asking for responsibility from these massive companies that control the flow of information to such a degree while also calling out Zuckerberg's lax approach to Holocaust deniers.

"The First Amendment says that 'Congress shall make no law' abridging freedom of speech, however, this does not apply to private businesses like Facebook. We’re not asking these companies to determine the boundaries of free speech across society. We just want them to be responsible on their platforms.

To quote Edward R. Murrow, one 'cannot accept that there are, on every story, two equal and logical sides to an argument.' We have millions of pieces of evidence for the Holocaust—it is an historical fact. And denying it is not some random opinion. Those who deny the Holocaust aim to encourage another one."

Government Oversight

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Cohen encourages government regulation, including heftier fines and the potential for jail time for tech CEOs.

"The ultimate aim of society should be to make 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 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."

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