Sacha Baron Cohen vs. Facebook

The “Borat” actor Sasha Baron Cohen recently delivered a great message on the Silicon Six signaling out Facebook has the biggest propaganda machine of our times.

In a world where free speech and engagement algorithms are leading to civil unrest online, more high profile people are standing up. This week in a speech before the ADL (a group devoted to fighting anti-Semitism), Sacha Baron Cohen blamed Big Tech for allowing hate speech to spread unchecked.

He went on to call Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter “the greatest propaganda machine in history.”

He was particularly critical of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has positioned Facebook as a proponent of free speech. He joins the likes of Elizabeth Warren, who has become openly critical of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg’s position.

Listen to this carefully:

In my speech I mentioned that if #MarkZuckerberg and tech CEOs allow a foreign power to interfere in our election (again) or facilitate another genocide (like Myanmar), perhaps they should be sent to jail. My full speech here:

— Sacha Baron Cohen (@SachaBaronCohen) November 22, 2019

He said the internet treats “the rantings of a lunatic” as equal to statements made by a Nobel Prize winner, essentially killing the idea of shared, basic facts that everyone agrees on. He echoes what the internet has become, an algorithm censorship prism that utilizes “free speech” as a defense for profit without ethics on channels like Facebook and YouTube.

It’s really striking how he signals out the “Silicon Six”, as playing by their own rules without any regulation from Government or other powers.

Though the speech criticized big tech as a whole, Cohen went after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in particular.

The “Borat” actor Sacha Baron Cohen launched quite the speech there, and I think it does move the needle as more celebrities and ex Facebook executives speak up about what it has become. YouTube, in particular, has new policies now that ban and censor more channels, without fair notice or due process.

As you might know, his speech comes as Big Tech companies are under increasing scrutiny from governments on antitrust and privacy matters and abuse of their platforms. Several U.S. presidential candidates, led by Elizabeth Warren, have called for Facebook and other tech companies to be broken up.

Facebook in Particular Abuses Its Power of Reach for Ad-Profit

Facebook still does not fact-check political Ads and has a hard time regulating its suite of apps for inappropriate content. Mark Zuckerberg equates free speech with some aspects of misinformation by politicians, where channels like Twitter have recently stopped serving political Ads and Google has changed its policies regarding them as well.

Cohen said a “handful of internet companies” were facilitating “the greatest propaganda machine in history.” There is a growing movement that sees BigTech as playing by their own rules and controlling too much of the narrative algorithmically, while being a censor for what it deems not appropriate content.

“First, Zuckerberg tried to portray this whole issue as ‘choices around free expression.’ That is ludicrous,” Cohen said. “This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. 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.”

New Media Companies Without the Fact-Checking

Baron Cohen turned to the rise of demagoguery, conspiracy theories and hate crimes around the world, and pointed to what he sees as the most logical explanation for this dangerous trend. “All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history,” he said.

“Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others – they reach billions of people. 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.

” To me, that sounds more like YouTube than Facebook Groups, but all of that is the legacy internet that has so much global attention economy influence.

Silicon Valley Executives Should be Held Accountable

I think SBC makes very valid points. Baron Cohen also coined the term, “The Silicon Six,” referring to the leaders of these companies, including Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and four executives from Alphabet: Co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.

He points to how the executives at the heads of these companies aren’t accountable to the failures of these platforms to be ethical guardians of how information spreads online.

As “new media” companies they aren’t taking their responsibility seriously enough since their primary consideration is always advertising profits and not public accountability.

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

There’s nothing to add to what he said, he’s telling a sad truth of our times. When Facebook is called the new cigarettes, I’m not sure that even adequately describes its detrimental impact on how the internet has evolved.

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