Satirist, actor, and prominent internet activist Sacha Baron Cohen escalated his attacks on Big Tech on Friday, accusing the billionaires who run Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, and Twitter of promoting and profiting off violence and murder.
In an online interview with Time magazine editor in chief Edward Felsenthal as part of the Time100 Talks series, Baron Cohen recalled how Big Tech—on the night of last November’s election—was a super-spreader of the lie that millions of votes were being stolen from President Donald Trump.
“That lie was spread via Facebook, via YouTube, via Twitter, and the heads of these organizations knew very well that they were enabling this lie to become a mass movement, and that the end result would be violence,” Baron Cohen said, citing other instances of mob violence that had been connected with social media. “So they knew very well at that time what would be happening in January”—a reference to the lethal Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Baron Cohen—a Cambridge-educated Brit who in real life bears zero resemblance to such iconic characters as Borat and Ali G—has dubbed Big Tech “The Silicon Six” for the six leaders of the five dominant companies, notably including the actor’s particular bête noire, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
“They are unelected. They are white billionaires. Why is it that they should be deciding what happens with democracy?” Baron Cohen demanded.
He argued that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—which protects social-media companies from legal liability when they platform big lies, slander, bigotry, Holocaust denialism, and other forms of hate speech—needs urgently to be overhauled.
“In every other industry, you can be sued for the harm you cause,” Baron Cohen said. “Publishers, as you know, can be sued for libel, people can be sued for defamation. I have been sued hundreds of times. In fact, I’m still being sued now by a very eminent judge”—a sarcastic reference to former Alabama Senate candidate and accused pedophile Roy Moore, one of Baron Cohen’s unwitting victims in 2018’s Showtime series Who Is America?
By contrast, social-media companies are protected from such litigation, and “Facebook cannot be held liable for the harm that it does, including deaths,” Baron Cohen said. “There were deaths that were the result of the inability to hold these people liable. There were a handful of deaths. There would be ethnic minorities. Some Jews would be killed in a synagogue, Muslims would be killed in a mosque, and the video would go online on YouTube and on Facebook, and you could not sue them.”
Baron Cohen added: “We do need some accountability for these people. They must be held liable for the deaths they cause because without it, we are relying on the whims of individuals.”
Aiming at Zuckerberg, Baron Cohen continued: “One man controls Facebook. It isn’t a board. It’s Mark Zuckerberg. And not only that. When Mark Zuckerberg passes away, the ultimate control of Facebook goes to his child. So this is the old system of emperors… He has decided internationally how 3 billion people get their information, and at a whim, he can shut off news to a country like Australia.”
In a dispute over money, Facebook—which raked in $86 billion in 2020—abruptly shut off news content to that country as the Australian parliament was about to pass a law requiring Facebook and Google to pay for repurposing the content of media outlets for their news-feed algorithms. Facebook grudgingly reversed the shutoff after it was widely accused of abuse of power and bullying.
Baron Cohen noted “that there already are some exemptions” to Section 230. “For example, Facebook and other companies can be sued for enabling pedophilia. So my argument is, if there’s an exemption for people who want to have sex with children, then surely there should be an exemption for people who are attempting to murder children—whose ideologies fundamentally advocate the death of children because they are from a different race or ethnicity.”