Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen says he has felt compelled to rip Facebook for its “absurd” handling of Holocaust denial and racist content because, it argues, that doing so threatens democracy.
Late last year, Baron Cohen gave a speech at the Anti-Defamation League’s “Never Is Now” Summit in New York City where he skewered Facebook for not doing enough to combat racism and anti-Semitism on its platform. The “Borat” actor was especially unsettled by Facebook’s stance against policing the veracity of political ads. (Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had said it was best for users to decide what is and isn’t truthful in political ads.)
“If Facebook were around in the 1930s, it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his ‘solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem,’” Baron Cohen said in that speech.
In a New York Times in a profile published on Saturday, Baron Cohen said the speech was “completely out of my comfort zone.” Instead, he said he typically prefers to not weigh in typically on political matters.
“It was the first time I’d ever given a major speech in my own voice but I felt like I had to ring the alarm bell and say that democracy is in peril this year,” Baron Cohen told The Times. “I felt, even if it was going to destroy my career and people are going to come at me and say, ‘Just shut up, the last thing we need is another celebrity telling us what to do’ — I fully understand people who do that — I felt I needed to do that to live with myself.”
Zuckerberg has been criticized for taking a more laissez-faire approach to content moderation than his Silicon Valley peers. But he has changed course a bit in 2020 and embraced more aggressive content moderation policies, with Facebook this past week announcing it would ban all content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.
He has said a rise in both anti-Semitism and data showing anti-Semitic violence prompted him to revise the decision. “My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech,” he wrote posted on his personal account.
He added, “I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust.”
Now if a person searches for or clicks on a post that contains inaccurate or false information about the Holocaust, they will be redirected to credible information outside the site, Facebook lead of content policy Monika Bickert said via company statement.