‘Borat’ Comedian Gets Serious About Regulating Facebook to Fight Fake News

November 22, 2019, 12:53 AM UTC

British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, best known for his satirical portrayal of the fictitious Kazakh journalist Borat, is the latest public figure to call for greater regulation of Facebook and social media to combat fake news.

In a keynote address at an Anti-Defamation League summit Thursday, the actor and director argued that social media companies should be classified as publishers and made to fact-check political advertisements before running them.

“All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history,” he said, noting the power of his comedy in the past to reveal people’s indifference to anti-Semitism and homophobia.

“I believe that our pluralistic democracies are on a precipice and that the next 12 months, and the role of social media, could be determinant.”

Sacha Baron’s brand of comedy often involves him portraying outlandish fictitious characters who interact with unsuspecting subjects on camera.

“When engines explode or seatbelts malfunction, car companies recall tens of thousands of vehicles, at a cost of billions of dollars,” Baron Cohen said. “It only seems fair to say to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: your product is defective, you are obliged to fix it, no matter how much it costs and no matter how many moderators you need to employ.”

His comments came as Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for having what NBC News said was a secret dinner with U.S. President Donald Trump in October.

Facebook has so far rebuffed calls fact-check political ads, saying it doesn’t want to police political speech. Carolyn Everson, a Facebook vice president, said Monday at a Recode conference that the social-media company wasn’t considering changes to its targeted advertising options for political ads. She later told Axios that the company hadn’t ruled out any specific changes.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Facebook was weighing steps to prevent political campaigns from targeting only very small groups of people.

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