Maria Ressa talks about why fighting for facts is critical for a sustainable future

Maria Ressa, the CEO of Rappler and joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021, was a keynote speaker at the FIBEP World Media Intelligence Congress that took place last week (Nov 2-4).

Maria Ressa is a Filipino-American journalist and co-founder of the news site Rappler. She is well known for exposing corruption and misrule of the government of President Rodrigo Duterte (How to stand up to a dictator, Penguin, 07/04/2022) and she has faced significant threats for her work. The Nobel Committee commended Maria for using freedom of expression to “expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her country, the Philippines”.

“This shows that the Nobel Peace Prize committee realized that a world without facts means a world without truth and trust“, she said.

The session was sponsored by DataScouting and the discussion was moderated by Sophia Karakeva, FIBEP Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at DataScouting.

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Below are some of the main topics that Ms Ressa addressed, while sharing her views on journalism, the new normal and how devastating the power that tech companies have gained is. How far can you get inside my head? What are the rules of this new world? How much of my data can you take to predict what I do?

We are in warning

A prize like this (Nobel Peace Prize) proves that journalism is critically important and that journalists are under attack. The last time a journalist received this prize was in 1936. And this shows that, once again, journalism is in an existential moment, where we are seeing the rise of fascism. And a lot of that is enabled by the technology we have but also by human nature, and how power is using the tech in order to manipulate us. We are caught in a battle for facts and at the same time getting answers from people in power has never been more dangerous than ever.

New gatekeepers

The major shift from the old to new gatekeepers came in 2014. In the past journalists and news organizations were held responsible. There were repercussions if we allowed lies to walk in and masquerade facts. With the new gatekeepers, with technology companies, this was almost forgiven. They took the money, which actually then weakened news organizations, and abdicated responsibility for the public sphere. Old power does not understand the new power; they are just starting to. And the new power is rapacious in terms of profit.

Facts and fiction or lies and facts are identical

That is the way the data is structured in the technology platforms that are delivering the news to us today. God-like technology is being built for profit. Decisions are being made for profit over safety (Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen). The public sphere has completely been overrun by toxic sludge. Lies spread faster than facts. But if you do not have facts, you cannot have truth, and if you do not have truth, you cannot have trust. Without any of these, you cannot have democracy, you cannot have any shared reality at all and it is impossible to solve any real problems.

Journalists are not content creators… but AI GPT-3 is

The future of journalism, the future of speaking the truth, is intertwined with technology. And journalists have taken too long to realize that. GPT-3 (released in June 2020) is a deep learning approach to supervise learning of predicting the next word. So, this is an AI that thinks and writes like a human being. The question is what can we do with that. We need to understand that deepfakes will get worse.

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Can technology destroy us?

It really can, it already has. Power exploits microtargeting that is possible on social media platforms that creates a model of each one of us. The Social Dilemma (Netflix, 2020) is what happens to every person that puts information into his/her Facebook account. So, I post something on Facebook, machine learning comes in and picks it up and creates a model of each user. And that model, over time, knows more about you than you know about yourself. And then AI comes in, picks it up and serves your most vulnerable moment to a message, either to a company (that’s the new advertising) or to a country (that is the new propaganda). This is a behavior modification system and every click or not-click is more data that is being used against you. That is the surveillance capitalism model.

Thinking fast and thinking slow (Daniel Kahneman)

Almost all the processors of democracy of the real world are thinking slow processors because we need time to think. The information ecosystem we live in (social media a thinking fast processor so it bypasses thinking slow) needs the thinking slow process in order to have democracy and yet it feels as if we are on drugs in a thinking fast world of social media. So, we need to find the balance and get back our shared reality, which has been torn apart by the algorithms that divide and radicalize.

The new normal is wrong, it is atrocious

We are trying to create the future, while a very horrendous present is already here. The covid-19 lockdown felt like living in a science fiction world. We are in a different time and place. This shows us how humanity has moved beyond a sustainable world.  The new normal is wrong because we have allowed the worst of ourselves – power and money – to get away with more power and money. And people in every democracy in the world must demand better.

Fact-checking is the basic foundation of an information ecosystem

Disinformation networks are slowly polishing, changing history, just in front of our eyes. This is how insidious this is. So, fact-checking becomes necessary; it is the basic foundation of an information ecosystem. If we do not have facts, we have nothing. We cannot come together to solve anything, to do anything. The tech platforms should be the ones doing fact-checking, the ones to clean up what they have polluted.

Unmasking tech biases

We should be doing far more stories so that our people understand how the tech is manipulating us. How the tech is using algorithms, which have coded bias in them. (Watch Sundance film, 2020, Coded Bias). Too much tech reporting from large organizations tend to follow the platform’s lines. How much money is enough money to pay you for tearing down societies?

If you are a FIBEP member or if you attended the FIBEP World Media Intelligence Congress you can view the entire session on the Hubilo platform.

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