This year, the Anti-Defamation League honored comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen with their International Leadership award. Two weeks ago, at their Never Is Now summit, the ADL invited Baron Cohen to deliver the keynote address. The target of his ire was social media companies, but mostly Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Now, although I use both websites regularly, I am well aware of the many dangers that exist on these platforms. You may have seen selected clips of this speech, and a lot of what Baron Cohen said may resonate strongly with you. However, like many edited clips, it’s the background of what he said that brings out the true message Baron Cohen was trying to convey. So this week I would like to work through some of the messages Baron Cohen, and by extension much of the liberal elite, was delivering, and explain why they are not the obvious interpretation he would like you to believe.
“Hate crimes are surging as are murderous attacks on ethnic religions and minorities.”
This statistic sounds like it could be true, but let’s take a look at the FBI statistics. These statistics go back to 2015 since that’s when the FBI changed their classification system. Firstly, attacks on all races have gone up. Attacks on African-American victims have increased by 10% since 2015, but attacks on whites have increased by 30%. The religion statistic is even worse. It is true that as a whole, religious hate crimes have risen, but that is mainly one religion. Attacks against Jews have risen by 25% over the last four years. Muslim victims are down 24%. Catholics are down 29%. The only other religions that are up have very few attacks. For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses are up over 500%, but they went from 1 attack to 11. The Jewish victims went from 649 to 809. Sacha Baron Cohen used the Jews as an example for all religious bias, and he completely and ironically white-washed white victims out of the ethnic attacks.
“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 rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as a Nobel Prize winner.”
Baron Cohen was almost salivating at the opportunity to lump Breitbart in with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But he masks this point well. He obviously can’t come out and say it, but by comparing the distance in truth between Breitbart and the BBC to that of the distance between the Protocols and the ADL, he links the two in the minds of listeners. Oh, and I don’t know that the BBC is the place you want to look to as the bastion of unbiased reporting.
“The president even considered that he was designating antifa, who are anti-fascists, who march against the far right as a terrorist organization.”
This is a classic argument made by the extreme left. Antifa is just a peaceful protesting organization trying to bring down the evils of white supremacists. Baron Cohen should have researched his audience a little more critically. On the ADL’s own website they warn against the dangers of the violent tactics of antifa, labeling them as violent counter-protesters. Oh, and the ADL also points out that antifa is not only targeting white supremacists, but just regular conservatives as well, resorting to labeling them as “Nazis” should they disagree with antifa’s political agenda. Speaking of Nazis…
“If Facebook was around in the 1930s, it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his solution to the Jewish problem.”
Baron Cohen makes this point in his argument that political ads must be censored on social media. Twitter has already banned political ads, so Facebook should as well. Aside from being a straw man argument, it has one other severe problem. Banning political ads doesn’t stop, let’s say, banning ads from media. So right now, MSNBC can run whatever ads they want. Presumably, so could have any of the Nazi newspapers. Twitter wouldn’t have stopped them, just like they don’t stop MSNBC now. See? I can sneakily link news outlets I don’t like to Nazis as well.
“All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of Internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.”
This comment is the crux of Baron Cohen’s argument, that all the blame for the hate and violence mentioned in the first quote lies solely at the feet of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You see, the social media platforms are not only allowing hate to protrude through society, but they are actively facilitating it. This makes them coconspirators in all the crimes committed by these individuals. The murderous scum who shot up two mosques in New Zealand while broadcasting the whole thing live on Facebook? That was Facebook’s fault.
“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. Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach. Sadly, there will always be racists, misogynists, anti-Semites, and child abusers. But I think we can all agree that we shouldn’t be giving bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target their victims.”
It must be pointed out that there is a distinct difference between bigots and pedophiles. Being a bigot is wrong obviously, but it isn’t illegal. As long as your bigotry doesn’t harm anyone else, you can be a bigot and spread bigoted messages legally. Being a pedophile by definition means that you broke the law and harmed children in the process. Additionally, social media companies work with law enforcement to bring down pedophiles, and can be fined or worse if they don’t comply. Obviously, you are angling to lump bigots and pedophiles together for some reason. I’ll obviously acknowledge that both are bad, but there are definitely levels. But let’s put that aside for a second. Yes, Sacha, we all agree with this. Bigots and pedophiles should not be given these platforms. But guess what? You don’t get to decide that. We have laws that decide that. Luckily, you address that next.
“The First Amendment says that (and I quote), ‘Congress shall make no law’ abridging freedom of speech. However, this does not apply to private businesses like Facebook. 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.”
Okay, Mr. Baron Cohen, I see what you are saying. You don’t want government to get involved here. You are asking companies to be responsible enough on their own to make the necessary changes. Okay, I see that point. So don’t force laws down their throats, but just work with them to make positive changes. I can live with that. Too bad your very next statement is…
“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 law… Here’s 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.”
Oh, so you were lying. You want the various governing bodies to cram down laws against these companies. I see. What other restrictions are you asking for?
“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 certain standards and practices too.”
So you don’t want to limit free speech. You just want to limit free speech. Gotcha.
“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…But social media companies are largely protected from the content their users post no matter how indecent it is.”
Oh, obviously you wouldn’t want free speech to just be limited, but you also want to open up the social media companies for libel that gets posted on their platform. I would assume that if I posted a copyrighted picture online, Facebook could be sued for that as well. Or a PDF of Harry Potter. Or a full-length movie file. Afterall, they are no longer a platform. They are now a publisher. Disney would be able to get a lot more money from Facebook than they could from my wallet. I’m sure they’d be glad to open up that possibility.
“Maybe it’s time to tell Mark Zuckerberg and the CEOs of these companies, ‘You already allowed one foreign power to interfere in our elections. You already facilitated one genocide in Myanmar. Do it again, and you go to jail.’”
Oh, so now we’ve come to the last remaining shoe for Borat to drop. Not only does he want to remove free-speech rights from Facebook, not only does he want Facebook to be able to be held liable for users’ posts. Not only does he want all social media to be able to be jailed if someone does something illegal using their technology. Although, remember, and this is important, government doesn’t need to get involved with the private companies at all. That would be a violation of the First Amendment. So presumably, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey would volunteer to go to prison should this happen.
Mr. Baron Cohen, I am extremely grateful for your recent portrayal of Eli Cohen on the Netflix series The Spy, but just because you were able to pull that off doesn’t mean that your political opinions make any sense at all.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.