“As a comedian, I’ve tried to use my characters to get people to let down their guard and reveal what they actually believe, including their own prejudice,” Sacha Baron Cohen said on Thursday at the Anti-Defamation League’s summit in New York. “I admit, there was nothing particularly enlightening about me, as Borat from Kazakhstan, the first fake news journalist, running through a conference of mortgage brokers when 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’s indifference to anti-Semitism.”
Though Baron Cohen also mentioned a few of his other famous personas, including Brüno and Col. Erran Morad, he delivered his acceptance speech for the ADL’s International Leadership Award as his “least popular character,” the real Sacha Baron Cohen. And it was the real Baron Cohen who used that acceptance speech to tear into the internet companies he calls “the greatest propaganda machine in the world” for spreading misinformation and hate:
British voters will go to the polls while online conspiracists promote the despicable theory of “great replacement” that white Christians are being deliberately replaced by Muslim immigrants. Americans will vote for president while trolls and bots perpetuate the disgusting lie of a “Hispanic invasion.” And after years of YouTube videos calling climate change a “hoax,” the United States is on track, a year from now, to formally withdraw from the Paris Accords. A sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threatens democracy and our planet—this cannot possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind.
Though Baron Cohen had plenty of criticism to go around during the nearly 25 minutes he spoke, his main target was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who recently defended the platform’s policy of allowing politicians to lie. It’s worth watching Baron Cohen’s full speech, if not to see him refute Zuckerberg’s arguments point by point, then for the rare opportunity to see Baron Cohen get unusually serious.