Speaking at the Anti Defamation League’s International Leadership summit on Thursday night, where he was accepting an award, the actor and comedian criticized social media — especially Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), and YouTube — as “the greatest propaganda machine in history.”
Baron Cohen blamed the tech companies for stoking the fires of bigotry and enabling the spread of dangerous conspiracies, often fueled by algorithms designed to keep consumers hooked.
As just one example, the actor cited Facebook’s recently unveiled news section, which includes the far-right website Breitbart as one of its sources.
As another, he pointed the finger at social media companies for the way they provided far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his fringe media outlet InfoWars with platforms and millions of views until banning him amid a wave of criticism last year.Prominent white supremacists are still on YouTube in wake of ban
“Today around the world, demagogues appeal to our worst instincts,” Baron Cohen said. “Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe are going mainstream.”
He added, “We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.”
Facebook declined CNN’s request for comment on Baron Cohen’s remarks.
A YouTube spokesperson emphasized that Jones’s channel was terminated in August last year and the company removed content that violates its Community Guidelines.
A Twitter spokesperson responded, “Our rules are clear: There is no place on Twitter for hateful conduct, terrorist organizations or violent extremist groups. Because of these rules, we’ve permanently suspended the accounts of 186 groups, half of which advocate violence against civilians alongside some form of extremist white supremacist ideology.”
A call to do more
While Cohen acknowledged that the social media companies have taken some measures and implemented policies meant to reduce hate and conspiracies that spread on their platforms, he called the steps “mostly superficial.”
He then called for a fundamental reevaluation of how social media “spreads hate, conspiracies and lies,” pointing to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent speech warning against laws and regulations targeting companies like his.
“Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach,” Cohen asserted. “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.”