Sacha Baron Cohen Demands Facebook Remove Conspiracies; Flips Out When Facebook Removes His Article With Conspiracy Images

from the content-moderation-is-impossible dept

Nearly a year ago, Sacha Baron Cohen presented a polemic speech to the Anti-Defamation League about how Facebook was evil for refusing to take down (loosely defined) "bad stuff" on their platform. We wrote a fairly thorough rebuttal, while simultaneously suggesting that SBC misunderstands his own comedy -- which is often held up as revealing the inner prejudices of the people he parodies. While that may be true in some cases, I think the stronger argument is that in many cases, the people playing along with his schtick are simply trying to be nice to the awkward idiot that SBC is playing in front of them. In non-consequential social interactions, this is how many people will reasonably act. Rather than lecturing the idiot on why what he's saying is ignorant bigotry, they'll just humor him. Under this interpretation, many of the people SBC confronts are not ignorant, bigoted hicks, but people trying to be nice and humoring him.

His own take on Facebook is similarly blinkered. And, with his latest Borat movie, he's taking aim at Facebook with part of the film. We won't get into that, but I do want to note this bit of irony. A few weeks back Baron Cohen again trashed Facebook, in the pages of Time Magazine, demanding that the company do more to block conspiracy theories and misinformation. Time Magazine illustrated the story with a photograph of someone wearing a facemask that says "COVID-19 Is A Hoax" as the primary image ( I will leave aside the question of why someone who believes it's a hoax would still wear a mask, but that's a separate issue.)

Of course, when you post something to Facebook, it will usually take the primary image and attach it to the story. So if you posted Baron Cohen's article, the image would be of the guy with that facemask, claiming that the pandemic is a hoax.

So Facebook blocked people from linking to the article.

In other words, Facebook did exactly what Baron Cohen has been demanding they do for a year now: to block information on hoaxes and conspiracy theories. You'd think that this would make him happy. But, no. It just made him mad:

He demanded they take down certain content, and they did. And yet he's mad because it's his content.

Of course, it also demonstrates just how little he understands about how content moderation works in practice. Baron Cohen is obviously intelligent. I just wish he'd actually talk to an expert on content moderation to understand how this works. Or maybe just listen to that Radiolab episode about Facebook's content moderation, to understand that him saying "hire more humans to moderate and fact check" is still missing the point. Facebook has hired more humans to moderate and fact check.

At last count, the company has 15,000 content moderators in the US alone (and many more overseas). But, in order to moderate reasonably across that many users, they need standard rules. And those rules on COVID-19 likely include something along the lines of "we don't allow posts claiming it's a hoax." It's kind of ridiculous to say that they should add an exemption "if an angry comedian is illustrating his ignorant article about our practices with such a picture."

If he expects the company to be quick enough to block conspiracy theories and misinformation, then it's literally impossible to expect that every one of those people can take the time to read through all the details, understand the cultural context of his article, recognize that the photo attached to the article is being used to (incorrectly and misleadingly) make a point, and then decide that this makes it okay. Because if every content moderation decision had to go through that process, it would take fucking forever, and Baron Cohen would be even more upset because more conspiracy theories and hoaxes would remain online because the moderators are spending all this time learning about how Baron Cohen is making a point against hoaxes, rather than trying to perpetuate a hoax.

Either way, Sacha Baron Cohen's freak-out here is yet another example of the Masnick Impossibility Theorem in practice. Content moderation seems so simple until its your content that's being moderated.

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Filed Under: conspiracy, content moderation, covid-19, hoaxes, sacha baron cohen
Companies: facebook


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 27 Oct 2020 @ 10:40am

    Shooting yourself in the foot and then blaming the gun

    Complains that the platform isn't taking down conspiracy theory garbage quick enough, posts a picture straight out of a conspiracy theory and then complains that they quickly took it down.

    There's something just so delightfully fitting about someone being on the receiving end of what they demanded like that, learning first-hand that it's not that simple and that what they are demanding comes with less desirable consequences.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2020 @ 11:31am

      Re: Shooting yourself in the foot and then blaming the gun

      I have a hard time believing he seriously wants offensive stuff taken down, given that offensiveness is the basis behind most of his comedy. This is more likely an example of self-promotion based on "any publicity is good publicity", rather than the Masnick Impossibility Theorem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Oct 2020 @ 11:35am

      “Do this thing I want you to do! …NO NOT LIKE THA—”

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2020 @ 11:30am

    Just another example of social media's bias against conservatives.... Oh, wait... what?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2020 @ 2:45pm

      Re:

      Honestly what’s wrong with bias against conservatives? They don’t do anything but complain about how they can’t shoot you with more guns and go back into church after all night drinking binges to repent to a god that’s nothing like what they act.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2020 @ 3:48am

        Re: Re:

        Being biased against dumbass bullshit is fine, nothing is wrong with it.

        Drinking bleach is a very stupid thing to do and yet people actually did it because some dumbass told them to.

        Conservatives can complain all they want, doesn't make a bit of difference to me. Friggin dumbasses.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2020 @ 11:43am

    How to moderate 15k+ moderators and wad of algorithms... Hmm.

    Sascha, you're hired. How long will you last?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 27 Oct 2020 @ 10:48pm

      'My job can involve looking at WHAT?!'

      Anyone who complains that platforms like Facebook could solve the 'moderation' problem by simply hiring more people should be presented with the ultimatum of 'Do the job yourself for a week and then you might be taken seriously', as anything is easy when you don't have to do it and I suspect that the overwhelming majority of people making that argument have no idea what they are trying to foist on others and would be absolutely horrified by what the job entails if they had to do it themselves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 27 Oct 2020 @ 11:45am

    Another case of...

    Careful what you wish for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Slow Joe Crow (profile), 27 Oct 2020 @ 12:04pm

    Sacha Baron Cohen is having his Leona Helmsley moment. He thought content moderation was for the little people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2020 @ 12:19pm

    15,000 moderators - what an army! But there are hundreds of millions of posts a day. Hard to find out just how many, due to FB's restrictions on researching their data (oh, that!). Assuming merely 150 million posts a day, that would work out to 10,000 postings per moderator per day. So, this, 15,000 moderators is an army is just stupid.

    Meanwhile, FB has perfected technology to spread ads to users where they'll be most effective. No by assigning an army of 15,000 moderators but by incredibly effective AI tools. Try an ad for whatever you want and don't target it -- let FB do that for you. You'll see just how effective their tools are.

    How much have they spent on tools to prevent deception, hatred, racism, sexual violence? What incentives do their best engineers have to work on these issues? What clear guidance is the company giving on these issues?

    Facebook earns ever more billions of dollars of profit every year, and none of it comes from restrictions on usage. So FB continues to promote lies, hate and misinformation. Techdirt continues to be one of their most credible apologists. Alas!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2020 @ 2:24pm

    Who cares.

    Don’t restore it. Let him complain to people who don’t care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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