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.