“First, Zuckerberg tried to portray this whole issue as ‘choices around free expression.’ That is ludicrous,” Cohen said. “This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. 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.”
The comedian added that while the First Amendment prevents the government from limiting free expression, private companies have control over what they allow.
“If a neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening other customers and saying he wants to kill Jews, would the owner of the restaurant, a private business, be required to serve him an elegant eight-course meal? Of course not. The restaurant owner has every legal right — and indeed, I would argue, a moral obligation — to kick the Nazi out, and so do these internet companies,” he said.
Cohen also took issue with Zuckerberg’s interview with Kara Swisher last year in which he said that although he found posts denying the Holocaust “deeply offensive,” he wouldn’t remove them from Facebook because it could be someone’s sincerely held belief.
“I think there are things that different people get wrong,” Zuckerberg said. “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”
Cohen said: “We have, unfortunately, millions of pieces of evidence for the Holocaust — it is an historical fact. And denying it is not some random opinion. Those who deny the Holocaust aim to encourage another one.”
“Fortunately, Twitter finally banned them, and Google, today I read, is making changes too,” he said. “But if you pay them, Facebook will run any political ad you want, even if it’s a lie.”
Cohen suggested that social-media platforms should not immediately publish content and that they should give themselves more time to scrutinize posts.
“The shooter who massacred Muslims in New Zealand livestreamed his atrocity on Facebook, where it then spread across the internet and was viewed likely millions of times. It was a snuff film, brought to you by social media,” he said. “Why can’t we have more of a delay so that this trauma-inducing filth can be caught and stopped before it’s posted in the first place?”
Cohen also floated the idea that the internet’s treatment of “the rantings of a lunatic” as equally credible to statements made by a Nobel Prize winner meant a reduction in “a shared sense of basic facts” that everyone agrees on.
“Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march,” he said.
Cohen acknowledged that tech companies had made some attempts to combat bigotry on their platforms but said the measures had been “mainly superficial.”
“When discussing the difficulty of removing content, Zuckerberg, Mark Zuckerberg, asked, ‘Where do you draw the line?'” Cohen said. “Yes, drawing the line can be difficult. But here’s what he’s really saying: Removing more of these lies and conspiracies is just too expensive.”
He added: “If these internet companies really want to make a difference, they should hire enough monitors to actually monitor, work closely with groups like the ADL and the NAACP, insist on facts, and purge these lies and conspiracies from their platforms.”
He also called for stricter regulation to allow the government to hold tech companies to account. But as the situation stands and the tech firms remain unregulated, tech CEOs can exert a kind of “ideological imperialism,” he said.