Nobel laureate Ressa: ‘Disinformation on an industrial scale’


Status: 05/12/2022 12:26 p.m.

Finally, thanks to social networks, Marcos, the son of the dictator, won the elections in the Philippines. In an interview, Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa speaks of a gigantic manipulation and acknowledges a “master plan”.

GDR: The name Marcos represented the dictatorship and human rights abuses in the Philippines. 36 years after the fall of the dictatorship, the majority elects a scion of the family to the presidency. How could this happen?

Maria Ressa: This is the result of industry-wide misinformation. When lies are turned into “facts”. Since 2014, social networks have been systematically used for this purpose. Stories like, “Marcos’ father was the greatest leader this nation ever had,” or, “If Marcos Junior wins, the poor get their money back.” It’s brilliantly diabolical.

Maria Ressa speaking at the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony |  AFP

To no one

Maria Ressa worked for 20 years for CNN television as a correspondent and investigative journalist in the Philippines and Indonesia. She is one of the founders of the “Rappler” news portal and has worked as an author on terrorism in South Asia. In 2021, she received the Nobel Peace Prize.

GDR: How is it that the crimes of the dictatorship have been forgotten?

Crowd: With the help of the social network, memories can be deleted. Russia also uses this method in connection with Crimea and Ukraine: first delete, then exchange the memory. That’s how it happened for us – and it’s only a matter of time before you too are faced with this effect. Because the networks provide us with the right messages – like Facebook, the largest news-dissemination platform, with around three billion users worldwide.

“In the end there is no longer a common reality”

GDR: What consequences does this have for democracy?

Crowd: Divide and radicalize social networks. It is not about freedom of expression. This is what is shared the most. We know from studies that lies, anger and hatred spread faster and further. Facts don’t stand a chance. But if you don’t have facts, then you don’t know the truth. So you can’t trust anyone. In the end, there is no longer a common reality. How to preserve democracy, save the climate, master the Corona crisis? This is what we experienced in the Philippines.

“Existential threat to democracy – worldwide”

GDR: Could this also happen in other countries?

Crowd: This is my biggest concern. This year could be of existential importance for democracy in the world. There are more than 30 elections around the world. For example in Brazil in October and in the USA in November. What happens when voters are deliberately influenced and don’t know the facts?

Memories of German history

GDR: What can be done to protect democracy?

Crowd: The EU has an action plan with two laws: the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act. This is the most advanced legislation in the world to date. We need to do more. If you don’t have the facts, then you lose your agency. Germany knows this.

“Used as a weapon”

GDR: What are the consequences of this evolution on your journalistic work?

Crowd: I have been assaulted since 2016. The narrative is: “Journalism is criminal. Social networks are used as a weapon. In 2019, the Philippine government issued ten arrest warrants for me. If I want to travel abroad, I have to ask for permission. It’s like dying by a thousand cuts. Made possible by social media.

Does Marcos do like his father – or better?

GDR: What’s next in the Philippines?

Crowd: It is not excluded that Marcos junior will do better than his father, who was in power for more than 20 years. His parents are accused of stealing $10 billion at the time. The government then recovered about three billion. Will a new Marcos government try to do the same? It will be interesting! There is also a party here to commemorate the popular uprising – will it be reinterpreted now? He has lawsuits, hasn’t paid taxes. I invited Marcos junior to an interview with “Rappler”.

“Let’s hope that the rule of law will survive”

GDR: Are you and your “Rappler” colleagues in danger?

Crowd: We have been in danger for six years. But we say to ourselves: the mission of journalism is more important today than ever. We just hope for the best. I could go to jail for the rest of my life. These charges against me should never have gone to trial. I fight in court. Hopefully the rule of law will survive.

The interview was conducted by Ulrich Mendgen of the ARD studio in Tokyo

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