At first blush, Sacha Baron Cohen’s recent – and entirely un-ironic – Anti-Defamation League (ADL) speech decrying free speech in order to “save democracy” might be laughed off as another “celebrity meets politics” disaster tale, and easily dismissed.
But there are two key reasons his monologue is being recognized as one of the worst examples of public oration offered by a non-politician in years.
First, his ideas and hypocrisy are not unique.
The gist of Cohen’s presentation at the ADL is that the largest social media websites are too laissez faire when it comes to speech, that they allow people to spread lies and deceit, and that these can lead to “hate crimes,” election fraud, and the “death of democracy.”
But cue the hypocrisy alarm, because this actor, who spoke about truth at the ADL, made a large degree of his fame and wealth by deceiving people while filming them. Whether one believes those people deserved to be caught in his gags is irrelevant. The fact is that Cohen, the man speaking out against falsity online, is famous for engaging in…deception.
Second, the manner in which he expresses his argument in favor of censorship reflects an easy affinity for error, or, if one does not want to be charitable, deceit by omission – which is strange coming from a guy standing on his “ban fake conspiracies” soapbox.
To set his foundation at the ADL, Cohen worries about the “rise in hate crimes.” Then he attempts to make a causal connection between online communication and said crimes, while never questioning the ever-broadening and arbitrary definitions of what “hate crimes” are or citing any specific instances of a crime that was caused by words animating a human being to become an automaton.
But that’s okay, because his argument fits snugly inside the “Russians and fascists and climate skeptics and racists and conspiracy theorists are disseminating ‘fake news’” narrative, and, of course, it’s all “social media’s fault”, and this is a huge crisis, and the GOVERNMENT MUST DO SOMETHING!
Heck, consider this shocker Cohen reveals: YouTube “recommended videos by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones billions of times.”
Which makes sense, because YouTube used to recommend videos based on their popularity within their subject categories and based on viewing history and favorites. The corporate heads changed that long ago for what appeared to be political reasons, at about the same time that they did something Cohen never bothered to mention: YouTube banned Alex Jones’ entire library of videos, then banned anyone on his radio team (people such as David Knight and Owen Shroyer).
This has not only happened to InfoWars. Banning and shadow-banning have been reported by many conservative, libertarian, and anti-authoritarian YouTube creators. Heck, even MRCTV and NewBusters were noted by a Google (parent company to YouTube, and both under the giant Alphabet corporation umbrella) whistleblower as being on a blacklist to supposedly suppress search results.
Regardless, Cohen marches on, away from free speech and towards his totalitarian future.
"But when, thanks to social media, conspiracies take hold, it’s easier for hate groups to recruit, easier for foreign intelligence agencies to interfere in our elections," Cohen purported.
Which means it’s time for us to get technical for a moment.
In the written form of his speech, Cohen cites the Senate Intelligence Committee report on “Russian Interference, Part 2”, which on, page. 23, implicates a man named Yevgeny Prigozhin (head of the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency - IRA), and six other men, for spending $87,000 on Facebook ads during the campaign. Yevgeny is friendly with Russian president Vladimir Putin (he runs a number of restaurants and catering companies Putin frequents), but there is no proven financial link between him and Putin’s government, and he won’t even have his day in court for “interfering in the US political process” until April of next year. In other words, he’s not been found guilty of any crime at all. Meanwhile, the 2016 presidential race saw $2.65 billion spent by the candidates and their supporters, and saw actual coordination between employees at television networks like CNN and campaigns like that of Hillary Clinton to feed Clinton questions prior to a debate.
Mr. Cohen didn’t seem to have time for that.
He also opted not to cite Antifa as hateful and violent, but to obliquely praise them, saying, "The President even tweeted that he was considering designating Antifa—anti-fascists who march against the far right—as a terror organization."
The fact that President Obama, his FBI, and his “Homeland Security” gang issued a warning calling them “domestic terrorists” was missing from Cohen’s heartfelt blather. Also missing was the hint of any effort to read about the dozens of incidents in which Antifa have destroyed property, violently attacked people, and even pushed around an old lady using a walker.
And how is it Sasha Baron Cohen can implicitly praise Antifa without noting that the bloodthirsty Soviet communists not only created Antifa, but they cited fear of “western fascists” as their rational for building their own monument to collectivist evil, the Berlin Wall?
The more Cohen speaks against free speech, the more one gets a sense that he is either woefully blind to history and to his own hypocrisy, or he is intentionally misleading people.
Or, perhaps, he’s executing an epic prank on authoritarian leftists…
After all, a few minutes in, as he decries the fact that people might find information online that he doesn’t like, including reports like my own that don’t jibe with the so-called “consensus” about “Anthropogenic Climate Change”, Cohen cites Voltaire, one of history’s most famous proponents of free speech.
This is not a joke. He cites 19th Century Enlightenment philosopher, novelist, individualist, opponent of Rousseauian collectivism, and proponent of free speech to bolster his argument AGAINST free speech! "
"Voltaire was right: ‘Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities,'" Cohen quoted.
Did he bother to mention Voltaire’s most famous quote about free speech? "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"?
Did Cohen consider that, perhaps, he could be accused of believing things that might be absurd? That he who believes he can control the government machine will often find others controlling it to his detriment?
Evidently not. Instead, he offers his opinion about social media, calling it a "sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threatens democracy and our planet."
But, apart from the fact that the U.S. government is not a “democracy” because, as Aristotle warned, “democracy” is mob rule and quickly becomes, as Ben Franklin supposedly said, “two wolves and a lamb voting over what to have for lunch,” there’s a key, major, fundamental problem with his logic.
In trying to “protect democracy” from social media posts, Cohen attacks the capacity and ability of the “Demos” (i.e. “the people” in Greek) to wisely choose what to speak and read, which not only undercuts his faith in “democracy,” it leaves open to question just how the “Demos” will become informed.
Would that be through government controls, Sasha?
Will the government tell the “Demos” what to read, what is “conspiracy theory” and what is “truth”? Only then will that well-informed population be filled with the “right” kind of information?
Surely, you don’t want the state to tell people what they can and cannot read, Mr. Cohen? And, surely, the ADL wouldn’t stoop so low as to applaud you for such a proposition.
(Cover Photo: Joella Marano)