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Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa: “What kind of world are we on the precipice of creating?”

At explain.co.za we’re passionate about the news because we know it’s under attack in an age of misinformation and failing business models. That’s why it’s so gratifying that amazing Filipino journalist Maria Ressa and her Russian counterpart Dmitry Muratov won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize! 🙌🏽 It’s the first time working journalists have won the award since 1935!  The Norwegian Nobel Committee commended the two for their efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”. In 2012 Ressa co-founded Rappler, a digital investigative journalism outfit that fights misinformation at its source – social media. 

In a recent interview with tech journalist Kara Swisher, who hosts the New York Times’ podcast Sway, Ressa said Rappler “was a way to imagine what technology in journalism would look like if we wanted to use the social media platforms to build communities of action”. 

Ressa is a thorn in the side of the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte because of her fearless exposés of his regime’s violent rule and use of misinformation on Facebook. She has been served with 10 arrest warrants in less than two years and has been the target of a vicious social media hate campaign. 😯

Here are some of the highlights from Ressa’s conversation with Swisher. Ressa shares her journey, from the highs and the lows to the hard-learned lessons: 

  • Asked about the misinformation and disinformation: “When you say a lie 10 times, the truth has a chance of catching up. When you say a lie a million times on social media, with the algorithmic distribution and the choices that these platforms make to actually prioritise the spread of the lies, laced with anger and hate, over the facts, you don’t have a chance.”
  • “When you take news, facts, and you just amplify family and friends, and you’re already being insidiously manipulated by power, you just make disinformation far more powerful by de-emphasising the facts.” 
  • In reference to her own country’s president, Duterte, and former US President Donald Trump: “So what happened is that the algorithms of the social media platforms, because it’s not just Facebook (…) these algorithms were exploited and helped the rise of these populist authoritarians”
  • “If social media is a behavior modification system, the very platforms that deliver the news to you are biased against the news. If you think about it like that, then, it is changing human behavior. What kind of world are we on the precipice of creating? Without the facts then how do we solve coronavirus? How do we solve climate change?”
  • “Let’s talk about Facebook as a weapon. (There are) about 70 million Facebook users in the Philippines out of a population just north of 100 million. It’s a huge megaphone. What are the main strands of misinformation and disinformation that Facebook helped spread in the region?”
  • “We had a research team. Here’s what they found in studying almost half a million social media attacks against me, from 2016. So 60% of the attacks are meant to tear down my credibility. And then, the other 40% are meant to tear down my spirit, which includes death threats…” 
  • “And we can’t have the integrity of elections if we don’t have the integrity of facts. So it goes back to those platforms. And now, we’re going to have to add on top of Facebook, is YouTube. On top of that, YouTube is now number one in the Philippines. And then, TikTok. Right? So the way our minds are being manipulated is expanding.”
  • About a conversation with Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg: “I wanted him to understand how he was determining what was happening to the Philippines and what was happening to me, right? I explained how powerful Facebook was. And I said 97% of Filipinos on the internet are on Facebook. And then he asked me a question. He was very quizzical. He just said, ‘Wait, wait, what are the other 3% doing?’”

Journalism, at its best, can make the world a better, fairer place. We salute Ressa, Muratov, and all the other journalists speaking truth to power against outrageous odds. Thank you for reminding us why we do what we do.🙌

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