Ressa: Journalists need tech mastery to counter information wars

Full attention: A Rappler employee watching Ressa talk during a Zoom meeting at their office in Pasig city, Philippines. — AP

Using just 26 fake social media accounts, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa was able to spread falsehoods to over three million unsuspecting users and influence their views in a study she conducted.

With legal systems around the world unable to adequately punish perpetrators of falsehoods, “online impunity is real-world impunity”, she said.

The Filipino-American veteran journalist and co-founder of news site Rappler said it is “time for journalists to understand tech well enough that we can actually create a public sphere we can live in, that democracy can live in”, instead of waiting for legislation and laws to catch up with reality.

Touching on how fake online accounts have a real-world impact, she also expressed worry for the “more than 30 elections in the world” being conducted this year.

Ressa has been a long outspoken critic of the immediate past Duterte administration, and has also reported on the role misinformation had on incoming president Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s election win.

She shared that Rappler had just been ordered by the Philippine government to shut down, on the basis of it violating the Philippine Constitution’s limit on foreign ownership of media companies.

She noted that in Russian information warfare, the goal was “not to make people believe one thing ... (but instead) to make them distrust everything”. This erodes trust in the media – even credible outlets.

Her fellow panellist Ansgar Graw, Asia media programme director at German think-tank Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, said “a lack of trust in the world, as well as a lack of trust in the media, is arguably the strongest weapon of the enemies of democracy”. — The Straits Times/ANN

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