Hitler would have been allowed to advertise his “solution to the Jewish problem” had Facebook been around in the 1930s, the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has said in a scathing attack on social media companies.
Describing social media as the “greatest propaganda machine in history”, the Ali G actor said: “If you pay them, Facebook will run any ‘political’ ad you want, even if it’s a lie. And they’ll 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 Hitler to post 30-second ads on his ‘solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem’.
“So here’s a good standard and practice. Facebook, start fact-checking political ads, stop before you run them, stop micro-targeting lies immediately. If they prove to be lies, give back the money and don’t publish them.”
Baron Cohen accused Facebook, Google and others of facilitating hate on their sites after accepting a leadership award from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a group devoted to fighting antisemitism, in New York.
He claimed social media such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were allowing hateful content on their sites because it provoked a response and improved engagement on a site.
“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 now knowledge is de-legitimised and scientific consensus is dismissed,” he said.
“Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march. Hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.
“What do all these dangerous trends have in common? I’m just a comedian and an actor, not a scholar. But one thing is pretty clear to me. All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.
“Let’s think about it. Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter and others – they reach billions of people – and 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.”
A spokesperson for Facebook said: “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.”
Social media companies have been under intense scrutiny in recent years following a number of high-profile incidents involving online misinformation, election interference attempts and the spread of hateful content linked to social media sites.
Critics have accused social media sites of failing to act quickly enough on harmful content.
It has led to calls for increased regulation and greater penalties for firms who fail to protect their users.