Sacha Baron Cohen blasted Big Tech for being the "greatest propaganda machine ever" during a fiery speech on Thursday in New York City.
In a scathing speech given at the Anti-Defamation League's Never Is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate, Cohen said that demagogues and autocracy, as well as hate crimes against minorities, are surging -- and he put the blame squarely on Silicon Valley.
"All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history," Cohen, who received the ADL's International Leadership Award, said. "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."
The comedian -- citing the rise of fake news, the viral spread of conspiracy theories on YouTube, the ability of platforms to erase distinctions between news outlets ("Breitbart resembles the BBC"), and the ways in which conspiracy-minded thinking can lead to real-world violence, didn't hold back.
Cohen said he believes that democracy itself is "on a precipice" in the United Kingdom, where British voters will soon go to the polls, and in the U.S., which is a year out from the 2020 elections.
The actor famous for satirical characters including Ali G and Borat singled out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, slamming as "utter nonsense" the mogul's defense of the tech company's policies as a matter "free expression."
"The First Amendment says that 'Congress shall make no law' abridging freedom of speech, however, this does not apply to private businesses like Facebook," Cohen said in his remarks. "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."
He also hit Zuckerberg over comments on a podcast last year about Holocaust denial, which were widely criticized. Zuckerberg said denying the Holocaust is "deeply offensive," but that he didn't believe Facebook "should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong.”
Cohen told the ADL: "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."
The comedian went on to suggest government regulation, harsher fines and perhaps even the threat of jail time for tech CEOs as potential remedies. Facebook, Google and Amazon are all facing scrutiny from regulators, either at the state or federal level.
"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," Cohen said. "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."
A Facebook spokesperson provided Fox News with the following statement:
"Sacha Baron Cohen misrepresented Facebook’s policies. Hate speech is actually banned on our platform. We ban people who advocate for violence and we remove anyone who praises or supports it. Nobody – including politicians – can advocate or advertise hate, violence or mass murder on Facebook.”
A spokesperson from Twitter shared the following statement via email:
"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."
Fox News reached out to Google for comment on this story.