Ken Larsen's website - Sacha Baron Cohen speech to ADL on November 21, 2019


Here is an awesome speech that Sacha Baron Cohen gave to ADL (Anti-Defamation League) on November 21, 2019:

Sacha's 25 minute speech nails it!


Here's my transcription:


(0:45) This is the first ever time that I've stood up and ever given a speech as my least popular character, Sacha Baron Cohen, and I have to confess, it's terrifying.
(1:08) At times some critics have said that my comedy risks reinforcing old stereotypes.  The truth is that I've been passionate about challenging bigotry and intolerance throughout my life.  As a teenager in England, I marched against the Fascist National Front and to abolish apartheid.  As an undergraduate I traveled around America and wrote my thesis about the civil rights movement with the help of the archives of the ADL, and as a comedian I've tried to use my characters to let people let down their guard and reveal what they actually believe ... including their own prejudices.
(1:45) I'm not going to claim that everything that I've done has been for a higher purpose.  About half of my comedy has been absolutely juvenile ... and the other half absolutely puerile. [laughter]
(2:05) I admit that there was nothing particularly enlightening about me as Borat of Kazakhstan ... the first fake news journalist ... running through a conference of mortgage brokers while I was completely naked, but when Borat was able to get an entire bar in Arizona to sing, "Throw the Jew down the well.", it did reveal people to be indifferent to anti-Semitism.
(2:29) When, as Bruno, the gay Fashion reporter from Austria, I thought of kissing a man in a cage fight in Arkansas ... nearly starting a riot ... it should the violent potential of homophobia.
(2:42) ... and when disguised as an ultra-woked developer, I proposed building a mosque in one rural community ... prompting a resident to proudly admit "I am racist against Muslims.", it shows the growing acceptance of Islamaphobia. 
(3:00) That's why I really appreciate the opportunity to be here with you.
(3:02) Today, around the world demagogues appeal to our worst instincts.  Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe are going mainstream.  It's as if the age of reason ... the era of evidential argument ... is ending ... and knowledge is being de-legitimized, and scientific consensus is dismissed.
(3:27) Democracy, which depends upon shared truth is in retreat, and autocracy ... which depends on shared lies ... is on the march.  Hate crimes are surging as are murderous attacks on religious minorities.
(3:43) Now what do all of these dangerous trends have in common?  I'm just a comedian and an actor and not a scholar, but one thing is pretty clear to me:  All of this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history. [applause]
(4:09) Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter, and others reach billions of people.  The algorithm these platforms depend upon deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged.  Stories that appeal to our basic instincts and trigger outrage and fear.  It is why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracies Alex Jones billions of times.  It's why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show  that lies travel faster than truth, and it's no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history:  the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous.
(4:57) As one headline put it, "Just think what Goebbels could have done with Facebook."
(5:03) On the internet everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC.  The fictitious protocols of the elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report, and the ranting's of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Noble Prize winner.
(5:24) We have lost the shared sense of basic facts ... upon which democracy depends.
(5:30) When I as the want to-be gangster Ali-G asked astronaut Buzz Aldren "What was it like to walk on the sun?" [laughter] the joke worked, because we, the audience, shared the same facts.
(5:47) If you believe that the moon landing was a hoax, the joke doesn't work.
(5:54) When Borat got that bar in Arizona to sing, "Jews control everybody's money, and they never give it back." the joke works because the audience shares the fact that the depiction of Jews as miserly is a conspiracy theory originating in the Middle Ages.  But, when, thanks to social media, conspiracy takes hold, it is easier for hate groups to recruit, easier for foreign intelligence agencies to interfere with our elections, and easier for a country like Myanmar to commit genocide against Rhranga. [?]  [applause]
(6:39) Now it's actually quite shocking how easy it is to turn conspiracy thinking into violence.
(6:42) In my last show (Who's in America), I found an educated normal guy who was holding down a good job, but who, on social media, repeated many of the conspiracy theories that President Trump using Twitter has spread more than 1700 times to his 67 million Twitter followers.
(7:06) The President even tweeted that he was considering designating Antifa (anti-fascists who march against the far right) as a terror organization.
(7:19) So, disguised as an Israeli anti-terrorism expert I told me interviewee that there's a women's march in San Francisco and that Antifa is plotting to put hormones into babies' diapers in order to make them transgender.  [laughter]  And, this man believed it.  I instructed him to plant small devices on three innocent people at the march, and explained that when he pushed a button he'd trigger an explosion and that would kill them all.  They weren't real explosives, of course, but he thought they were.  I wanted to see would he actually do it.  The answer was "yes".  He pushed the button and thought he actually killed three human beings.  Voltaire was right when he said "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."
(8:20) Social media lets authoritarians push absurdities to billions of people.
(8:24) Now in their defense, these social media companies have taken some steps to reduce hate and conspiracies on their platforms, but these steps have been mainly superficial.
(8:36) I believe our pluralistic democracies are on a precipice.  In the next 12 months the role of social media could be determined.  Now British voters will go to the polls while online conspiracists promote the despicable theory of the "Great Replacement" that white Christians are being deliberately replaced by Muslim immigrants.
(9:03) Americans will vote for President while trolls perpetuate the disgusting lie of an Hispanic migration, and after years of YouTube videos, they're calling Climate Change a hoax.  The United States is on track
a year from now to formally withdraw from the Paris Accords.
(9:25) A sewer of bigotry and foul conspiracy theories threaten our democracy and to some degree our planet.  This cannot possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind.
(9:37) I believe that it's time for a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies, and lies.  [loud applause]
(9:54) Last month Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook delivered a major speech that not surprisingly warned against new laws and regulations on companies like his.  Well, some of these arguments are simply bullshit.  Let's count the ways.
(10:14) 1. Zuckerberg tried to portray this whole issue as "choices around free expression."  That is ludicrous.  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.
(10:40) Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach.  Sadly, there will always be racists, misogynists, anti-Semites, and child abusers, but I think that we can all agree that we should not be giving bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target their victims. [applause]
(11:00) 2. Mark Zuckerberg claims that new limits on what's posted on social media would be to "pull back on free expression".  This is utter nonsense.  The first Amendment says "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech; however, this does not apply to private businesses like Facebook.
(11:22) We're not asking these companies to determine the boundaries of free speech across all of society.  We just want them to be responsible on their platform.
(11:33) Now if a Neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening other customers and says he wants to kill other Jews, would the owner of the restaurant (a private business) be required to serve him an elegant eight course meal?  Of course not.   The restaurant owner has every legal right ... and indeed I would argue a moral obligation to kick that Nazi out, and so do these internet companies.
(12:05) 3. Mark Zuckerberg seems to equate regulation of companies like his to the actions of the most repressive societies.  Incredible!  This is from one of the six people who decide what information so much of the world sees.  Zuckerberg is Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google's parent company Alphabet, Brim's ex-sister-in-law Susan Wojcicki of YouTube, and Jack Dorsey at Twitter.  These are the "Silicon Six".
(12:20) They are all billionaires.  They are all Americans who care more about boosting boosting their share price than about protecting democracy.  [applause]
(12:55) This is ideological imperialism ... six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world ... unaccountable to any government and acting like they are above the reach of law.  It's like we're living in the Roman Empire, and Mark Zuckerberg is Caesar ... at least that would explain his haircut. [laughter]

(13:20) Now here is an idea:  Instead of letting the Silicon six decide the fate of the world, let our elected representatives ... voted for by the people of every democracy in the world ... have at least some say.

(13:47) 4. Zuckerberg speaks of "welcoming a diversity of ideas", and last year he gave us an example.  He said that he found posts denying the holocaust deeply offensive, but he didn't think Facebook should take them down, because "I think that there are things that different people get wrong."  At this very moment there are still holocaust deniers on Facebook, and Google still takes you to the most repulsive Holocaust denial sites with a simple click.  One of the heads of Google, in fact, told me that these sites just show both sides of the issue.  This is madness.
(14:20) To quote Edward R. Murrow, one cannot accept that on every story there are equal logical sides to an argument.  We have unfortunately millions of pieces of evidence of the Holocaust. It is an historical fact.  Denying it is not some random opinion.
(14:35) Those who deny the Holocaust aim to encourage another one.  [applause]
(14:50) Still Zuckerberg says that "people should decide what is credible ... not tech companies" ... but at a time when 2/3 of Millennials say that they haven't even heard of Auschwitz, how are they supposed to know what's credible?  How are they suppose to know that the lie is a lie?
(15:13) There is such a thing as "objective truth".  Facts do exist.
(15:19) And, if these internet companies really do want to make a difference, they should hire enough monitors to actually monitor.  Work  closely with the ADL and the NAACP.  Insist on facts and purge these lies and conspiracies from their platforms. [applause]
(15:40) 5. When discussing the difficulty of removing content, Zuckerberg asks "Where do you draw the line?" 
(15:53) Yes.  Drawing the line can be difficult, but here is what Zuckerberg is really saying:  "Removing more of these lies and conspiracies is just too expensive.  These are the richest companies in the world, and they have the best engineers in the world.  They could fix these problems if they wanted to.
(16:13) Twitter could deploy an algorithm to remove more white supremacy hate speech, but they have reportedly haven't, because it would eject some very prominent politicians from their platform. [laughter].  Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing.  [laughter and applause]
(16:40) The truth is that these companies won't fundamentally change, because their entire business model relies on their generating more engagement, and nothing generates more engagement than lies, fear, and outrage.
(16:54) So, it is finally time to call these companies what they really are:  the largest publishers in history.  Here is an idea for them:  Abide by basic standards and practices just like newspapers, magazines, and TV news do every day.  We have standards and practices in television and the movies.  There are certain things we cannot say or do.  In England I was told that Ali G could not curse when he appeared before 9 PM.
(17:22) Here in the U.S. the Movie Picture Association of America regulates and rates what we see.  I've had scenes in my movies cut or reduced to abide by those standards.

(17:35) Now if there are standards and practices for what cinemas and television channels can show, then surely companies that publish material to billions of people should have to abide by basic standards and practices, too.  [applause]
(17:50) Now take the issue of political ads ... on which Facebook has been resolute.  Fortunately, Twitter finally banned them.  I read today that Google is making changes, too.   But, if you pay them, Facebook will run any political ad you want even if it's a lie, and they will even help you micro-target those lies to their users for maximum effect.  Under this twisted logic, if Facebook were around in the 1930s it would have allowed Hilter to post 30 seconds ads on his solution to the Jewish problem.
(18:30) So, here is a good standard and practice:  Facebook:  Start check 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. [applause]
(18:55) Here's another good practice:  Slow down!  Every single post does not need to be published immediately.  Oscar Wilde once said "We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessity.", but let me ask you, is every thought or video posted instantly online ... even if it's racist or criminal murderous ... really a necessity?  Of course not.  The shooter who massacred Muslims in New Zealand live streamed his atrocity on Facebook ... which then spread across the internet ... and viewed likely millions of times.  It was a snuff film ... brought to you by social media.  Why can't we have more of a delay?  ... so that this trauma inducing filth can be caught and stopped before it's posted in the first place. [applause]
(19:53)  Finally, Zuckerberg said that social media companies should live up to their responsibilities, but he's totally silent about what should happen when they don't.  By now it's pretty clear that they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. 
(20:18) As with the industrial revolution, it's time for regulation and legislation to curb the greed of these high tech robber barons.  [applause]
(20:26) In every other industry a company can be held liable when their product is defective.  When engines explode or seat belts malfunction, car companies recall tens of thousands of vehicles at a cost of billions of dollars.  It only seems fair to say to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, "Your product is defective, you are obliged to fix it no matter how much it cost and no matter how many moderators you need to employ."  [applause]
(21:03) In every other industry you can be sued for the harm you cause.  Publishers can be sued for libel.  People can be sued for defamation.  I've been sued many times.  [laughter] I'm being sued right now by someone whose name I won't mention, because he might sue me again, but social media companies are largely protected from liability for the content that users post no matter how indecent it is by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  It's absurd.
(21:50) Fortunately, internet companies can now be held responsible for pedophiles to use their sites to target children.
(21:57) So, I say, we ought to hold these companies responsible for those who use their sites to advocate for the mass murder of children because of their race or religion and maybe find enough enough.  Maybe it's time to tell Mark Zuckerberg and the CEOs of these companies, "You've already allowed one foreign power to interfere in our election, you've already facilitated one genocide in Myanmar.  Do it again, and you go to jail. [applause]
(22:38) In the end, it all comes down to what kind of world we want?  In his speech, Zuckerberg said that one of his main goals is to uphold as wide a definition of "freedom of expression" as possible.  It sounds good, yet our freedoms are not only an end in themselves, they're also the means to another end ... a you say here in the U.S. "the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", but today these rights are threatened by hate, conspiracies, and lies.
(23:21) So, allow me to leave you with a suggestion for a different aim for society.  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.  [loud applause]
(23:44) 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.  Thank you very much.  [loud applause]




Ken Larsen's home page