“What are we willing to sacrifice for the truth?”
I continue sharing excerpts from Maria Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech last December 10. There are gems in her words that should be echoed to a Philippine audience.
For example, Maria Ressa’ articulation of the core of journalism is classic: “as a code of honor” which she describes, for herself, as “layered on different worlds – from how I grew up, the golden rule, what’s right and wrong; from college, and the honor code I learned there; and my time as a reporter, and the code of standards and ethics I learned and helped write.” To this, Maria added “the Filipino idea of utang na loob – literally the debt from within – at its best, a system of paying it forward.” She also describes how truth and ethical honor intersect “like an arrow into this moment where hate, lies, and divisiveness thrive”. According to Maria: As only the 18th woman to receive this prize, I need to tell you how gendered disinformation is a new threat and is taking a significant toll on the mental health and physical safety of women, girls, trans, and LGBTQ+ people all around the world. Women journalists are at the epicenter of risk. This pandemic of misogyny and hatred needs to be tackled now. Even there, though, we can find strength. After all, you don’t really know who you really are until you’re forced to fight for it.”
Maria then turns to the elephant in the room – social media and how it has become a deadly game for power and money”. She pointed to two facts: First, that what happens on social media doesn’t stay on social media. Second, that online violence is real-world violence. She also highlighted how Facebook, the world’s largest distributor of news, and other American social media companies controlled our global information ecosystem and are biased against facts and biased against journalists: “They are, by design, dividing us and radicalizing us.” She continues: “Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. Without trust, we have no shared reality, no democracy, and it becomes impossible to deal with the existential problems of our times: climate, coronavirus, now, the battle for truth.”
“So what are we gonna do?”, Maria asks and then responds brilliantly:
“An invisible atom bomb has exploded in our information ecosystem, and the world must act as it did after Hiroshima. Like that time, we need to create new institutions, like the United Nations, and new codes stating our values, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to prevent humanity from doing its worst. It’s an arms race in the information ecosystem. To stop that requires a multilateral approach that all of us must be part of. It begins by restoring facts.
We need information ecosystems that live and die by facts. We do this by shifting social priorities to rebuild journalism for the 21st century while regulating and outlawing the surveillance economics that profit from hate and lies.
We need to help independent journalism survive, first by giving greater protection to journalists and standing up against states which target journalists. Then we need to address the collapse of the advertising model for journalism. This is part of the reason that I agreed to co-chair the International Fund for Public Interest Media, which is trying to raise money from overseas development assistance funds. Right now, while journalists are under attack on every front, only 0.3 percent of ODA funds is spent on journalism. If we nudge that to just 1%, we can raise $1 billion a year for news organizations. That will be crucial for the global south.”
In her speech, Maria called on the United States Congress to reform or revoke Section 230, the law that treats social media platforms like utilities and allows them to avoid liability for what is posted in said platforms. She emphasizes that their editorial agenda is profit-driven and through artificial intelligence is carried out by machines at scale. According to her: “The impact is global, with cheap armies on social media rolling back democracy, tearing it down in at least 81 countries around the world. That impunity must stop.”
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