Today, Mark Zuckerberg is making billions off of signal boosting the messages of holocaust deniers, white supremacists, and other assembled peddlers of the worst kind of bigotry and hate. We know this because today is one of the days of the week that ends in “-day.” And despite all of us knowing this—because Mark Zuckerberg openly admits it—there seems to be some confusion about whether or not giant social media companies like his should have to submit to governmental regulations; you know, the kind with which literally every other industry in America deals.
So Sacha Baron Cohen is going to say that for us, because it would probably be slightly less plausible coming from Borat, Brüno, Ali G, or any of his other alter-egos. The actor and comedian recently accepted the International Leadership Award from the Anti-Defamation League at its annual Never Is Now summit on anti-Semitism and hate, and during his speech, he decided to take aim at one of the people most responsible for turning the internet into a tool of racist propaganda geared toward fomenting the worst and most violent tendencies in people. (No, not Stephen Miller, though as Cohen notes, “When I say ‘racism, hate and bigotry’ I’m not referring to the names of Stephen Miller’s Labradoodles.”) No, his target is Mark Zuckerberg, and Cohen lays out a clear, concise, and articulate case for why current social-media practices by Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter need to end.
Noting the rise of hate crimes, racist violence, and conspiracy theories into mainstream discourse—as well as the existence of sentient conspiracy theory Donald Trump—Cohen points a finger where it belongs: “All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.” Deconstructing a recent speech of Zuckerberg’s, in which the dead-eyed capitalist emitted false-equivalence free-speech defenses like a lowing cow with Bovine Viral Diarrhea, Cohen patiently explained a basic fact: that “free speech is not equal to free reach.” Just because the First Amendment guarantees the right of anyone to say just about anything, doesn’t mean private companies have to support and reinforce their attempts to say it to as many people as possible.
Cohen’s example is as obvious as it is damning for Zuckerberg and the heads of the other major internet behemoths. “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’…So here’s a good standard and practice: Facebook, start fact-checking political ads before you run them, stop micro-targeted lies immediately, and when the ads are false, give back the money and don’t publish them.”
Since the cost to employ a massive team of people to enforce such practices (and maybe add some delays so that everything doesn’t instantly get uploaded regardless of content) is a drop in the bucket to these billionaires, Cohen ends by stating a proposal that seems self-evident, yet has somehow escaped becoming a major political issue: That Facebook et. al should be subject to regulations that would punish them when they do wrong. Just as car manufacturers have to recall defective autos no matter the cost. Cohen stresses, social media companies should be forced to recall and fix their platform when it, say, live-streams the massacre of people in New Zealand. Because that’s a broken platform. The entire speech above is well worth watching, but if you want to skip to the end, it concludes on a simple hope:
If we prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference and experts over ignoramuses…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.