Nobel laureate Maria Ressa says social media is corroding democracy in the US
The United States is “much worse off than you think” when it comes to social media that undermines its democracy, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and journalist Maria Ressa told Axios.
Why is this important: Ressa, Filipino American co-founder of news organization Rappler, said the next wave of elections around the world, including the US midterm elections in November, provide another opportunity for social media. to spread misinformation, to divide people against each other and to incite violence.
- “Most people don’t realize that they are being manipulated, that these platforms are biased against facts. You don’t get facts. It’s toxic muck. Social media encourages anger, hate , conspiracy theories. There’s violence,” and it’s getting worse, Ressa said in an exclusive interview ahead of a speech Tuesday in Honolulu at the East-West Center international media conference.
- “Online violence is real-world violence,” Ressa said, citing incidents around the world including the January 6 attack on the US Capitol and recent mass shootings by radicalized killers.
She argues that nations need demand accountability from tech companies like Meta, which owns Facebook, and Twitter.
Catch up fast: Ressa was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov.
- Rappler has been recognized for his coverage of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs. The news site also reported on the spread of false information on social media and the government’s use of bots to manipulate public opinion.
- Muratov’s independent news agency, Novaya Gazeta, ceased publication after Russian President Vladimir Putin cracked down on Russian media that did not support his false narrative about the war on Ukraine.
- Last week, Muratov sold his Nobel Prize for a record $103.5 million and pledged the proceeds to help Ukrainian children.
Ressa said she had hope that the European Union will move to regulate social media companies as efforts in the United States stall. But she warns that the global problem needs global solutions, both in law and in practice by the social media companies themselves.
When asked what advice she would give Elon Musk, who is in the process of buying Twitter, Ressa warned the billionaire of the consequences of unchecked freedom of expression.
- “There is a reason why when news organizations were gatekeepers we had standards and transparency. Unchecked free speech is like a person crying fire and there is no “Fire. Freedom of expression at all costs has a cost.”
Since winning the Nobel Peace PrizeRessa still faces threats against herself, and Rappler, the media company where she is chief executive, still faces several lawsuits from the Philippine government, which tried to bankrupt Rappler for writing critical reporting. .
- Now that the Philippines has elected Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as its new president, Ressa said she has received no indication that the new president will change course.
- “The short answer is that it’s TBD. Who knows what the new administration will do. If the rule of law prevails, these cases [against me and Rappler] will be thrown away. I look forward to a new administration and its upgrade of the rule of law.”
Marcos Jr. ran his campaign without answering tough questions from reporters at Rappler or other independent news outlets, Ressa said, opting instead to travel with a team of video bloggers who told pro-Marcos stories on social media. He won in May with 59% of the vote.
- Ressa argued that social media allows politicians to create their own echo chambers of information, where the truth is irrelevant because a narrative – even one full of lies – is more compelling.
And after: Independent news media “lost” in Russia, Ressa said. She raised concerns about the future of democracy in Brazil, Kenya and the United States, which face similar threats from fractured information systems and have elections looming.
- “We will all end up like Russia if we don’t do better,” Ressa warned.