British-Israeli actor Sacha Baron Cohen spoke before Congress on Monday in honor of the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, when Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" speech.
Cohen, known best for his acting in and direction of the hit back comedy mockumentary Borat, began by telling the audience of his first experience studying the American civil rights movement, visiting Atlanta, Georgia as a university student at the age of 19.
"I visited Atlanta and stayed at the historic Butler Street YMCA," he said. "I’ve never forgotten how I was welcomed by the staff of the King Center and the people of Atlanta."
"There I learned about how Black Americans and Jewish Americans and people of many faiths linked arms together, went to jail together, sacrificed their lives together and achieved historic victories together for civil rights. Their brave alliance teaches a lesson that we can never forget: When we are united, we can hasten the day as Dr. King proclaimed, 'When all of God's children will be able to walk the Earth in decency and honor.'"
He then touched on his own work as a "fake news journalist" and how he has seen the best and the worst of people who think they are among like-minded friends.
After a few drinks with some American university students, they told him Cohen (in character as Borat) that women have too many civil rights and that Jews are taking over the world. When he asked, "Do you have slaves in America?" they replied, "We wish."
Truth and lies: Spreading hate on social media
Cohen pointed out that people have a choice in their understanding of the truth. For example: As Borat, Cohen convinced an entire bar in Arizona to sing "Throw the Jew Down the Well." But in Nashville, people started to boo and chased him out of the bar when he tried the same trick.
"The idea that people of color are inferior is a lie," Cohen stated. "The idea that Jews are dangerous and all-powerful is a lie. The idea that women are not equal to men is a lie. The idea that queer people are a threat to our children is a lie."
He went on to explain that in today's media landscape, knowing the difference between truth and lies is more important than ever. "Today, the forces of hate have a new weapon that was not available in 1963: Social media."
Social media platforms, said Cohen, deliberately amplify content that triggers outrage and fear, particularly fear of the "other."
"They've gone from Klan rallies to chatrooms," he claimed.
To conclude, Cohen addressed the recent surge in hate crimes and murders of religious and ethnic minorities in the US and worldwide.
"We call on people everywhere to join us in standing up to hate, conspiracies, and lies, especially on social media."