Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has labelled social media companies “the greatest propaganda machine in history”.
The Ali G actor accused Facebook, Google and others of facilitating hate on their sites after accepting a leadership award from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in New York.
He claimed platforms 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.”
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.
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