Sacha Baron Cohen rarely appears as Sacha Baron Cohen, and he almost never speaks without joking. That doesn’t mean he’s not serious. The comedian, actor and impossibly brave entertainer — who’s filmed darkly comic encounters with racists, homophobes, terrorists, and Dick Cheney — dropped his usual disguises when delivering the keynote speech the Anti-Defamation League’s Never is Now summit. One of the targets of his address, whom he feels has fomenting “hate and violence” in America: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.
As per The Daily Beast, the creator of Ali G, Borat, and Brüno — as well as the many new characters on Showtime’s Who is America? — began his impassioned speech with a joke. “Thank you, ADL, for this recognition and your work in fighting racism, hate and bigotry,” Baron Cohen said. “And to be clear, when I say ‘racism, hate and bigotry’ I’m not referring to the names of Stephen Miller’s Labradoodles.”
But he quickly turned serious, partly by addressing criticisms of his own comedy. Among those: the character of Borat, a proud and loud anti-Semite, whose creator and performer is himself Jewish. “The truth is I’ve been passionate about challenging bigotry and intolerance throughout my life,” he explained, adding that “as a comedian, I’ve tried to use my characters to get people to let down their guard and reveal what they actually believe, including their own prejudice.”
While his biggest hit film, Borat, exposed untold bigotry in the George W. Bush era, it seems the Trump years have left him so overwhelmed he had to speak about serious issues directly. And to him, Trump isn’t the only one to blame for the prejudices let loose in the late teens: It’s social media.
“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. He singled out Facebook, who’ve infamously refused to take down posts that are bigoted or known to spread misinformation. Even Holocaust deniers received a free pass.
“It’s like we’re living in the Roman Empire, and Mark Zuckerberg is Caesar,” he said, adding, “At least that would explain his haircut.”
Baron Cohen spent part of his speech dismantling, argument-by-argument, a speech Zuckerberg recently delivered to Georgetown University, in which he defended his company as pillars of “free speech.” Baron Cohen called BS:
“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. 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.”
Baron Cohen imagined what Facebook would have been like in the lead-up to World War II. “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. “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.”
He tried to end on an up-note, calling on people to “prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference and experts over ignoramuses.” If people do that, 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.”
If you want to see an entertainer who once created an entire scene involving horny elephants having their way with he and acclaimed actor Mark Strong, the full speech can be watched below.
(Via The Daily Beast)