In separate incidents, singer Neil Young and actor Sacha Baron Cohen ripped into Facebook.
Cohen used an acceptance speech for the International Leadership Award at the Anti-Defamation League’s Never is Now summit to torch the social media platform and Zuckerberg’s stance on free speech.
Noting the rise of demagogues and conspiracy theories, Cohen also pointed out that “hate crimes are surging as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.” Tying it all together? According to Cohen, “All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.”
Facebook wasn’t alone in receiving Cohen’s ire; he also name-checked YouTube, Google, and Twitter. But Facebook was his main target.
Speaking to the wave of anti-Semitism that has spread like wildfire across social media, Cohen (who is Jewish) remarked, “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. As one headline put it, ‘Just think what Goebbels could have done with Facebook.'”
(For what it’s worth, that headline was from a feature in Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, that explored how Facebook and WhatsApp could be used to wage psychological warfare.)
“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.”
Cohen had equally harsh words for Zuckerberg’s Georgetown speech on free expression, which you can hear in the above video, starting at the 9:58 mark. Calling Zuckerberg’s argument “bullshit,” Cohen lays out a point-by-point counter-argument to Zuckerberg’s speech, which is probably the most powerful dismantling of the Facebook chief we’ve heard yet.
“This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech,” Cohen said. “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.”
And Cohen points out that the First Amendment applies to Congress, not social media companies 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.”
And, this being the genius behind Borat and Ali G, of course there were jokes. Cohen spoke to the power that certain tech companies, including Facebook, have and how they are “unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law.” He followed with the quip, “It’s like we’re living in the Roman Empire and Mark Zuckerberg is Cesar. At least that would explain his haircut.”
The entire 24-minute speech, which includes Cohen’s call for these platforms to abide by standards and practices similar to that of movies and television, is worth a listen.
Perhaps less incendiary yet no less impactful was the attack on Facebook posted by legendary singer-songwriter and curmudgeon Neil Young.
Noting Facebook’s recent participation in the annual gala for the right-wing Federalist Society (best known for advising Trump on conservative court picks like Brett Kavanaugh), the statement notes, “This turn of events, in addition to the false information regularly supplied to the public on Facebook, with is knowledge, has caused us to re-evaluate and change our use policy.”
Back in October, Young, in another post, hinted at this move, saying, “We keep looking at Facebook and wondering if we should be using that platform at all, given the latest news.”
While Young doesn’t have the current cultural cachet of, say, Taylor Swift, he’s still a legend in his own right, and one popular amongst older age groups that still actively use Facebook. That Young is willing to sever ties with the nearly 2.5 million fans who have liked his Facebook page actually holds some heft.