OSLO - Veteran Filipino journalist and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa called for the establishment of new institutions to combat the rise of disinformation fueled by social media at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, Friday.
During her laureate lecture, Ressa said American companies that controlled the global information ecosystem are biased against facts and journalists.
She added that as a result of the design of social media platforms, people have become radicalized and divided in countries worldwide.
"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 our world’s existential problems: climate, coronavirus, the battle for truth," the co-founder of Filipino news site Rappler said.
Ressa added that elections worldwide could not be conducted with integrity as long as social media platforms amplify lies over facts.
"35 years after the People Power revolt ousted Ferdinand Marcos and forced his family into exile, his son, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is the front runner," she said. "And he has built an extensive disinformation network on social media, which Rappler exposed in 2019. That is changing history in front of our eyes."
She called on the United States to reform or revoke Section 230 of its Communications Decency Act, which says social media platforms cannot be held responsible for posts put up by users or other third parties.
"What happens on social media doesn’t stay on social media. Online violence is real world violence," she said. "Facebook is the world’s largest distributor of news, and yet studies have shown that lies laced with anger and hate spread faster and further than facts on social media."
She also called on journalists to embrace technology and on governments to provide Official Development Assistance for journalism. According to Ressa, only 0.3% of ODAs are spent on journalism. If that was raised to 1%, that would mean $1 billion dollars a year for news organizations.
The veteran journalist is currently free on bail as she appeals a six-year prison sentence for libel, on top of tax evasion charges. Ressa calls the cases politically-motivated, while the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte denies this.
Ressa shared the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Prize with Russian investigative journalist Dmitry Muratov, in an endorsement of free speech under fire worldwide.
At his laureate lecture, the editor-in-chief of Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta said war between his country and Ukraine was possible. Though Moscow denies planning to invade its neighbor, there has been a build-up of troops along its border with Kiev.
Muratov also said journalism in Russia was going "through a dark valley", with over a hundred journalists, media outlets, human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations having been branded as foreign agents.
"In Russia, this means 'enemies of the people'," Muratov said.
He dedicated his prize to all investigative journalists, and to colleagues at Novaya Gazeta killed because of their work.
Ressa and Muratov are the first journalists to receive the Nobel prize since Germany's Carl von Ossietzky won the 1935 award for revealing the Nazis' secret rearmament program.
Ressa noted in her speech that Von Ossietzky was never able to collect his award as he was held in a concentration camp and died in custody.
"Democracy has become a woman-to-woman, man-to-man defense of our values," Ressa said. "We’re at a sliding door moment, where we can continue down the path we’re on and descend further into fascism, or we can each choose to fight for a better world."
- With a report from Reuters