Maria Ressa is a Filipino-American, award winning journalist acclaimed for her coverage on corruption and disinformation, fighting for democracy and truth. She is a Nobel Peace laureate best known for advocating for freedom of the press and challenging corruption and tyranny.
Ressa is a former CNN journalist, now running a digital media organization in the Philippines called “Rappler.” She has conducted investigative work on how disinformation has dominated the online space that was once supposed to connect people.
She spoke to OMNI News about democratic challenges and elections, social media concerns in a digital age and how Canadians need to need to do more to curb disinformation.
Ressa is visiting Canada to discuss her new memoir, “How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future” at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, as part of a collaboration with the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
The book details her work life’s experience and the lessons she learned along the way.
“If you look at it, ‘How to Stand Up to a Dictator,’ replace the word ‘dictator’ with ‘bully,’ it’ll cross across the ages,” Ressa said.
She recalls the first time she had to stand up to a bully and then subsequently asks the reader to spot and stand up to dictators, whether it’s Rodrigo Duterte or Mark Zuckerberg.
Rodrigo Duterte and his administration’s “war on drugs” killed thousands of Filipinos who were alleged to be drug users or pushers. Duterte’s administration filed various charges against Rappler and Ressa, threatening multiple times to shut down the news organization.
In 2021, Ressa and Dmitry Muratov were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work “to safeguard freedom of expression.”
“The window for us to work together to strengthen democracy is closing,” Ressa told OMNI News.
Ressa said the world should watch global elections in countries like India, the world’s largest democracy, or Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim population and the United States, where former President Donald Trump is attempting to make a comeback at the White House.
“If you don’t have integrity of facts, you don’t have integrity of elections,” Ressa said.
Disinformation and Canadian presence on social media
Ressa is warning Canadians against what she calls “insidious manipulation,” perpetrated by social media platforms which she believes continue to allow lies, hate and fear to dominate on their platforms.
“The insidious manipulation is actually shaping the worst of us, taking the worst of human nature and fanning out to take over who we are,” Ressa said.
“Tech companies have designed their product to be mildly addictive. When you and I are reporting, you have 10 seconds to capture viewer attention. Today, that’s down to three seconds.”
Ressa challenged democratic nations like Canada to start making a move before disinformation becomes the norm of discussion online.
“If you don’t have facts, you can’t have truth, without truth you can’t have trust. Without this, we have no shared reality, we can’t solve any problem, much less existential ones like climate change, we cannot have democracy.”
She took note of Canadian efforts to curb disinformation through legislations, but she believes Canadian journalists and the public need to do more.
“First, stop being a user and come back to being a citizen,” Ressa said.
“We need to reinvent what civic engagement means in the age of exponential lies on social media. In the long term, it’s education, in the medium term, it’s legislation.”