Maria Ressa on Using Social Media Against Democracy | On Civil Society | January 28 2019

Maria Ressa on Using Social Media Against Democracy | On Civil Society | January 28 2019


Maria Ressa: I hope to show you that you should
not be complacent in your democracy, that no
democracy is safe, and that everything can turn like that. [applause] Lisa LaFlamme: Okay. I know I don’t come from a position of power
when I wanna sob my eyes out before I start talking to
you. That was such a powerful presentation, particularly
that last minute. There is something comforting, on some level,
to know that this is so global and that we are… No matter where we are reporting from, journalists
are the target. But
just through this presentation, it’s so clear that you were ringing the bell long before
the term “fake news” was popularized by Trump. He likes to claim it. In fact, it goes way back to the 1800, so
he doesn’t get that one. But nobody
was listening, nobody was listening. Well, as you say, we are in an election year,
we are listening. What do you think is
the role of the public? These are the people being targeted, their
opinions being to be swayed. What is your best advice
to the general public, who is the recipient of all of this propaganda masquerading as
fact? 37:56 MR: I think the first is you have to
be vigilant, don’t be arrogant, don’t be complacent, and the journalists should
do their jobs. ‘Cause part of our problem was we saw this
stuff happening, and I brought it to mainstream, to our TV
reporters, who thought that they could weather it out because it’s only social media. Guys, this is like the movie
Inception. Remember in that movie, Leonardo DiCaprio,
they went into the dream world to change the real world? The
power of social media is insane. I don’t think we knew it, I don’t think Facebook
knew it. I think they’re just figuring
this out. So, first is democracy can… You’re doing it, you’re here, you’re talking
about it, you’re… You have to form
communities that will prevent your worst selves from coming out. You will be manipulated to hate. You will be
angered. From the little I’ve seen in Canada, you’re
so… I love the things I’ve seen in the last few
days, extremely inclusive societies… This could change so quickly, and it will
play to the worst of your nature, so be aware of that. Lisa: And I would say… It’s lovely to hear that, but I don’t think
anyone here is under the misconception that this
hate doesn’t also exist in Canada against marginalized communities. And I think that’s the question I wanna just
dig in a little deeper on is, eight months before our
own election, how… Ban on Twitter, or a Twitter strike, or a
Facebook strike is not the solution to this. How can people call it out? MR: I think the first is we started trying
to form these communities that would keep track of the sites that were
spreading it, and the Facebook accounts or Twitter accounts. And then we went to them, but that was two
and a half years ago, they didn’t take any action. The network that they took down three weeks
ago, we reported on that 13 months earlier. Imagine the damage that could have been prevented. How do you do it? You push Facebook, Twitter, YouTube,
you push them to actually take on the roles… What happened is news groups used to have… We created and distributed
news. Then we gave up that power, the distribution
went to Facebook, YouTube, Google… Sorry, Twitter. But along
with distribution with us, before we were the gatekeepers. And then, when it went to the social media
platforms, they refused the gate=keeping powers. And in fact, a lie, something that angers
you, spreads faster than truth. And so the lie
becomes truth because it spreads so much faster. That’s part of it. MR: In my case, I was thinking through, “What
are the solutions to this?” There’s short, medium, long-term. The
long-term one is education. We need to understand this. The medium term is media literacy. We don’t have time to wait
for the medium term. The short term is actually to put pressure
on the social media platforms. “Clean it up or we will
call you out.” And that’s worked this year for us. Lisa: Although we saw that when Mark Zuckerberg
was in front of the committee in Washington, clearly, they
didn’t even know what to ask him. They were so behind the eight ball on the
issues, and I think media literacy is the key
to this, no doubt about it. But just this week in the New York Times,
they called Twitter, I think it was, “the most
dangerous social media platform in the world.” What is your reaction to that? 42:07 MR: Depends on which country you live
in. WhatsApp was extremely dangerous in India,
where people… In
Myanmar, it’s Facebook, ethnic violence, you had 200,000 people displaced. In Brazil, it’s WhatsApp. Another
journalist, Patricia, was clobbered on WhatsApp. An Indian journalist, Rana Ayyub, gets clobbered
on Twitter. Lisa: This week I think it was WhatsApp, which
is owned by Facebook, has come up with a plan, they believe. They did it in India a year ago, they’re finally
doing it now, where they’re limiting the number of people. Do you think
that’s gonna make a difference though? MR: I think that they… It’s hard to tell. It’s kind of like this. If you think about democracy as a human body,
what courses through our veins is blood with oxygen
that gives us what we need, but imagine that that oxygen is being
pumped full of, instead of blood, it’s toxic sludge, ’cause the gatekeepers aren’t keeping
it clean. And so the more they
do, the easier it is to get a temperature on where exactly our democracy is. I have to say, I sat in on several panels
in the last two days, and some of the discussions
we have all stem from the information that we get. And if you’re being
manipulated and if the information is inaccurate and you’re being goaded, then you will get
the results. It’s hard to say,
“Be nice,” all the time. It doesn’t work. So, for me, the more they do, the better it
will be. The more they do, the greater
the chances that they won’t be splintered by regulation, by legislators who know very
little about what they’re trying to legislate. Lisa: Speaking of goading, I’m guessing that
you didn’t get a congratulatory note from Duterte when you ended
up Time Person of the Year. [chuckle] What was the reaction at home? MR: Somebody did ask at a press conference
and he said, “Sa inyo na yan.” He dismissed it and said, “Oh, they
can have it,” which is okay. That’s all right. [chuckle] 44:33 Lisa: Yeah. The alternative, we understand. But do you suppose that you’ve become safer
as a result of that honour, or more vulnerable? 44:45 MR: I found out about Time Person of
the Year on Twitter, [chuckle] when they announced it. And it was so
funny because… Lisa: Did you think it was fake news? MR: I really did. [laughter] I did. It was a very strange day. On that day, I had filed… I posted bail four times that
day. And then in the afternoon… The morning, I was in court. In the afternoon, I was actually sitting down
with our team to figure out whether I needed to get
security, ’cause we’ve increased security in the office ’cause I have young
reporters, and it’s hard to tell when these attacks move into the real world. But that night, it was 6:30 and I was just
having dinner, and the first thing I did when I saw it was, “Can you please check.” And then, when I saw Khashoggi and
then Capital Gazette, then… Then I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m the only
one who’s free and alive of the four of them. Is
this what our future is like, and is this what I’m looking forward to?” And I thought, “Well, no, we have to do something
about it.” And I think it’s a good thing, because I’m
holding my government responsible for my safety. Lisa: Yeah, that’s a very good point. But I noticed also on your grid, that the
attacks on the media started again almost a year and a half before Donald Trump
stood up at a microphone and called the media “the enemy of the
people.” However, he is still the occupant of the Oval
Office. What do you see as the impact of that globally
for the president to say that, and the message that
it sends to other leaders like Duterte or… We call them the D-8 now at work,
the dictators we cover. MR: It’s like he declared open season. Right? Starting the first report… We felt this immediately, you can see. But
the first report that verified it was Freedom House came out with a report November of 2017. They said, “The cheap
armies on social media was rolling back democracy in 28 countries around the world.” And then a year later, that
became 48 countries around the world. When President Trump… Where do I begin? Our reporter was kicked out of the
Malacanang Palace a few months… 10 months before Jim Acosta, of CNN, was… Before his accreditation was taken
away. When President Trump called CNN and The New
York Times fake news, a week later, Duterte called Rappler
fake news. That was a week after President Trump. So, without guiding principles, without a
moral beacon, without pressure from outside, it is open season on
us and we saw that. But strangely, Venezuela actually is making
me… President Trump… The United States is leading the charge. Right? 47:53 Lisa: He finally found a dictator he
doesn’t like. 47:56 MR: Yeah, exactly. 47:56 Lisa: That was an interesting week. 47:58 MR: So, I’m really hoping… Again, looking at what’s happening in Venezuela,
hopefully it is… Of course, they’re
also at a make-or-break point. If they go back to where they were, it’ll
get even worse. And it all depends now… So,
they’re now getting pressure from the bottom and global pressure, now it depends on the
military. And these are the
same elements President Duterte place with. He doubled the salary of soldiers. He owns the police. These are the same
things in every… 48:37 Lisa: We saw the same thing. The way the Taliban was built was because
they weren’t paying the military, so they look wherever they can. But I wanna get to your personal situation,
with your legal troubles. You’ve become the Al
Capone of the Philippines, with all these tax evasion charges. How do you even park this in your head? Where do you
park it, when these are trumped up charges, they’re looking for anything to tear you down. How do you personally
manage that? 49:13 MR: We saw it coming. Every news group is gonna… In a country like mine, has to choose between
good business and good journalism, because good
journalism is bad business. And the first battles we had were three years
earlier, because our businessmen on our board were essentially telling us, “Are you going
to survive this,” and kind of hinting that we should, “Chill.” Of course, the journalists are the single
largest group of shareholders in Rappler. We
had 3% more votes, so we went full steam ahead. And as expected, the charges came, so it wasn’t
a surprise. I knew that
they couldn’t find any evidence of corruption, ’cause we’re not corrupt. We pay all of our taxes. 50:08 MR: You know how they were able to make
these charges up? They turned us from a news group, they
reclassified us from a news group to a stock brokerage agency. And they said that the last investment we
got from Omidyar Network, that we actually effectively
sold it outside, so we should have paid taxes on that as income not as an
investment. So, it’s really… It’s weird, but I guess… You know why I have hope? Because if they actually convict me on
these charges, it will wreck the stock market. There are other companies with these investments. I think they just
wanted to intimidate us. 50:51 Lisa: How does that intimidation affect
you personally? You’re heading home in the next few days,
and when you see the plane coming down over Manila, and
you think, “All right, I’m gonna have to go to Customs.” What goes
through your mind mechanically, the things that you could face? “I could sail right through, or they could
stop me.” What are the real things that affect you on
that front? 51:19 MR: Lisa, now it’s actually so much
easier than at the beginning, because… 51:24 Lisa: They know you? 51:25 MR: Well, now it’s a new normal. And I’ve already posted bail. I no longer have an arrest warrant, until
the next one. It’s not knowing whether they’ll break into
your apartment and arrest you, because they don’t have to tell you they
have an arrest warrant. That part was harder than now. I laugh. I’ve run out of synonyms for the word “ridiculous”
for the charges. I also get a lot of energy from Rappler, from
my team. It’s a young team. Our median age is 23 years old,
the median age of the Philippines. 52:10 Lisa: The future looks good then. That is encouraging to hear. 52:12 MR: I’m telling you, I am optimistic. And you know why? Maybe you shouldn’t tweet this yet. I think we can win
this battle. [chuckle] 52:21 Lisa: I hope so. [applause] 52:27 Lisa: I know that there are people who
have questions. So, I’m gonna just ask one more before we
open it up to the floor. But there is this perception that most of
this hate online, on Twitter, on Facebook, wherever, comes from the
right. What is your opinion on that, given the real
work, your team, has done to really identify and call out the bots, or
the haters, or… Call them what you will? 52:54 MR: In the Philippines, we have our
representative… We’re not set up… We do have right and left, but the attacks
are insanely personal. They’re not political, ’cause our political
party system is very weak. In the Philippines, we don’t
really need bots, because labor is so cheap, so it’s about fake accounts. And Facebook knew that because in their
disclosure several years back, they have a footnote that says, “The Philippines has higher
than average number of fake accounts,” and those fake accounts pretend
to be real people. So, the hardest thing is keeping your faith
in real people, because the stupidity multiplies and you sit
there and you go, “I don’t think real people are like this. And I don’t think
Filipinos believe it is okay to kill.” But what’s so shocking was within six months
of President Duterte coming to office, there were so many Filipinos who went online
to say that they want to kill these drug users. It doesn’t make sense. It is
what they were told, it’s what they were pounded, it’s what they were manipulated to say. 54:16 MR: I don’t know, the jury is still
out. In terms of political speak here and in the
United States, the breakdown… And I can tweet the New Knowledge report. The breakdown, definitely, you’re seeing the
alt-right, the far right in the US with the far right in Europe coming together
with a link towards the IRA. That’s why it’s so interesting. So, if you
think about it, social media is all a power play, and it is connected to geo-political
power. I don’t think it’s a mistake
that, in October 2016, President Duterte, without telling the Foreign Affairs Ministry,
he went to Beijing and announced that the Philippines would be pivoting from
the United States to China and Russia. He tagged in Russia. And here’s the
reason why.

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1 thought on “Maria Ressa on Using Social Media Against Democracy | On Civil Society | January 28 2019”

  • Ressa is a libelous tax evading propagandist who looks like a comfort ladyboy from world war 2.

    Omidyar and the fake news site rappler that they fund are terrorists.

    There's a good reason why we don't allow foreign entities to fund our local news outfits.