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About the talk
Maria Ressa, the winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize and veteran journalist talks about standing up to strongmen and big tech, her fight against online misinformation and the importance of a free press in preserving democracy around the world at the 2021 DealBook Online Summit.
A journalist for more than 30 years, I built on the discipline of traditional journalism and embraced what technology offers: social media, crowdsourcing and big data. Author of "FROM BIN LADEN TO FACEBOOK: 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism" and "Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of al-Qaeda's Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia" I'm interested in seeing how the combination of broadcasting, the Internet, social media and mobile phone technology can be used for social change.View the profile
Welcome back for our final session of the day. We have a Nobel winner a new Nobel winner. My next guess is Maria ressa. She was the co-founder and CEO of rappers a new site based in Manila. She's a Fulbright scholar Time Magazine person of the year and just last month literally about a month ago. Right now, became the first Nobel Laureate from the Philippines for being a Fearless defender of freedom of expression and documenting her. Social media is being used to spread fake news rats opponents and manipulate public discourse. We want to welcome her this afternoon. Thank you so much for
being here. So personal. Congratulations. It's it's it's an achievement and I should just ask a very personal basis and I know you've been asked in a million times, but it's a month later. What was it? Like, what's it been like to be at to win the Nobel Prize? Cuz I know this for you was actually a surprise. You know, it's spelled that it's still, I can't imagine yet how it has really changed. Everything except the, you know, I was under two, oceans of water, trying to
crawl my way up and now it's four oceans of water, but I hope to be able to, you know, take that light that they'd shown on journalists on the Philippines and kind of directed in the direction in the right places where we can do the most good at work about 4, but what are those oceans look like that. You're trying to swim out from under so I run rappler right? I run the tech in the business. We are the government has done its best to. It's a war of attrition. I have seven, I had 10 arrest warrants in less than 2 years, but I have seven
more legal cases, rappler have seven more as well. We're building a tech platform. You know, how does what does journalism look like when you incorporate check into it? And Are my elevator pitch when we created rappler in 2012 is we build communities of action. I wanted to begin building this platform in 2016, but that was when we we came under attack. So we're finally rolling out the tech lab for mid-november and then I'm trying to write a book. I finished just a week before October 8th, which is when my life turned upside down and I'm here in Harvard on a, on
a fellowship. It's a dual Fellowship on media manipulation with the shorenstein center. And then I'm trying to figure out what does leadership look like for new with everything. We are living through. What it, what, what is driving us at that point. So, yeah, sorry. I probably gave you too much of a little. First of all, I wanted to go and speak to you, is the state of play with these legal cases. And I, and we know him out Clooney as your lawyer and you've been Under a lot of pressure is probably the polite way to put it, but what is the state
of play as it happens now, and how does this change things or does it? Well, this is the first time I've been allowed to travel in more than a year. It was for the fifth time. I have tried in December last year. My mom was diagnosed with cancer and I had I was prepared to come. And then the night before, I was getting on a flight, the court one of the courts denied travel. I have to get permission to travel from every single court that handles these charges. So, you know, I like, I think right now in addition to, you know, what the Nobel light is doing. Its, I appreciate Freedom.
You don't know what it's really like until it's taken away from you and I was allowed at. So now I've fought and got in my right to travel. The other cases are ongoing. I have five tax evasion, cases, that essentially happen because your business, right? They reach the government reclassified rappler from a news organization to, this is a quote from the documents a dealer in security. And then essentially said, because you're a dealer in Securities, you should have paid all Stacks as well. We're not a dealer in security. I want to win these cases
and all for your critical coverage of the government there. Sprinkle to front, you know, we kept track of the number of people killed in the drug war. We tried to stop the impunity. Just today. We released a document from the ICC, the international criminal court that the highest president duterte to a hit man who claimed he was in. This is evidence in the ICC case against the church. So we just there's about 10 stories that are coming out in the next two weeks on this end and kind of the corroboration that we done. But then beyond that, and this is where it, what happens in the
Philippines. Also, it shows you that it is happening everywhere around the world that are dystopia is coming for you. It already has come for the United States. It is the kind of social media impact, you know, what happens when social media has been optimized in the words of tap, to the point, that it is now a behavior-modification system on where information operations are changing us. Algorithm, but one other question journalistically about the reporters who working on these stories. Are they in danger?
It kind of depends, right? Like the question. I'll ask, is it on climate change? Will breathing polluted air. Are we in danger? You know, it depends on. I think that's the hard part of working in a democracy, where institutions have crumbled and you have the veneer of a democracy but you step out of line and you will, it is vindictive. So I don't know. I mean, what I can tell you is that we have increased security significantly. Part of the reason, I traveled so much in about a little over a year 2018, the end of 2018 to 2020. I had 36
approvals from the chords to travel because it was far easier to do not have security. While I was in Manila. It was easier to do my work outside, then it was to stay in Manila and how to have insecurities. So you built your business. Dare. I say at least initially on the back of Facebook, Facebook was the original classic. Or what you were doing, and it is clearly transformed over this past decade. I'm trying to sort of when you think you knew or when you decided that there was a problem.
2016, you know, I I drink the Kool-Aid. I still believe that this technology can actually prioritize the good can actually, you know, the reason we started rappers. I thought that we could use technology to jumpstart development, to help build institutions, bottom up. And it was pretty good up until 2016. But I would say, you know, look at that when instant articles were brought into Facebook and the algorithms weren't really changed for noon and then I would say The Dominoes began to fall in 2016, to check it was elected in May
and then about a month later you had breakfast and then you had the Catalonia elections you had on was in 2017. You had Trump, you know why I went the Facebook in Singapore with the data that we had. That was quite alarming. And I, you know, I gave it to them and thinking that they would do something immediately. So we could then do what? We were partners and they didn't. We did a story a few months later and that series called it, the weaponization of the internet series. That's the one that got me an attack with at least 90. 90 hate
messages for our right. When you expose the machine, the machine comes for you. You talked to Mark Zuckerberg about this. And he's and he's told you, what? I think she got, she got distracted because we were at a Roundtable of Founders. I was the only one this is in in April of 2017. And I had just told him that at that point 97% of Filipinos on the internet where on Facebook, Facebook was our internet and it was extremely powerful and I mistakenly made the mistake that they were like a new screw that they would take
that power seriously and would do something, but instead, he kind of got stuck on the 97% and then I was, he looked at me again and I thought, maybe I was pushing too hard cuz I asked him to come travel to Manila and then he said, Maria, where's the other 3%? And in 2017? I still laugh because she's smart. And, you know, he we were talking through the tack in different circumstances, but I think what they never grappled with was that Choices. They were making atomized was actually creating
emergent human behavior. And that people like me and I'm lucky compared to the people on the front lines who have died. There are 21 journalists from the Philippines who have died 63 lawyers under this Administration. And you know, depending on who you talk to ten, thousands of people under this brutal drug war. So take me inside your mind. When you think about Mark Zuckerberg mind. And in the reason why I ask is there's a lot of there's a lot of speculation about what has driven. The decisions that Facebook has made. Some people say
it's being strictly driven by prophets other people would suggest do it. It may be a, i mistaken view of what's free. Speech is supposed to look like. And on and on. What do you think? It is a nation? I think they did create a Frankenstein and in 2016. I was you know, how I work with them behind the scenes and some of the things that came out in the Facebook. They were, you know, the vegetables, eat your vegetables. This is from from things. So I'm still under an NDA. You do? We help I really felt that they were going to do something about it. But I
think you have to look at Mark Zuckerberg Uber country. Sorry, I'm old. You know, he is, he's never lived outside the United States. And when you a damn eyes, the world in building Tech is very different from the way journalism, considered complete opposite in terms of how you develop them. Right? Developing us a story versus developing Tech. When you itemize it to the way they have and then they build it and in a rated based on our biology but not looking at the impact. I call it emergent Behavior because one human being behaved in a particular way
when you put the human being in a group, The prac the group price of pressure on that and emergent behavior is even worse. So I think where I would fault him is that, you know, that the data, the evidence has been there. And it's very clear that they've chosen not to and you look at the Facebook papers. It has been profit over safety question, which is Marc benioff as described Facebook as the equivalent of a tobacco company and when you think about it Tobacco Company, I think it's fair and if you if you take 30 30,000 ft view of this, you say actually has very little
utility. Maybe it was tobacco provided some happiness to somebody but did they knew? That it was killing people and they didn't do anything about it. Facebook is a bit of a different situation. I think there's some degree provides more utility. Maybe, maybe not. We can we can probably have that debate but I would imagine somebody used it as their platform. You think, you think gas in utility. And so the question is, is that an apt comparison or not? More and more, you know, a rapper Still Remains of fact-checking partner of Facebook, where one of two, Filipino fact-checking
Partners a few years ago. I said we are friend of me, but now more and more the more Mark Zuckerberg digs his heels in you know, you cannot solve the problem until you define it and if you ignore it or you, you do a slight of hand and a misdirection and you really can't solve it. So here's the thing, it is like tobacco. It is addictive. Think about the generation this generation that spends an inordinate amount of time in a performative. And so the question is, are you getting something from this? Is it real
connection? I mean, even in the real world, we have cocktail parties and then we have intimate intimacy, intimate conversation. So I just need her. She is about understanding yourself. It is this allowing us to do anyway, sorry, the more especially with the data that we now have. In terms of its Farms, the more, it begins to look like big tobacco from Facebook or any other social media company called you in the last month. I deal with them all the time, you know,
I mean I think to look and I pointed like this rappler is a Facebook partner, you know, we're doing several things together and I can you get a call from Mark congratulating you on your Nobel Prize that when I don't think so. I think that they know that I will not stop pointing to the problems that faced the harms of Facebook aside. And then, think about it like this, right? I think about Justice, you know, in 2016. I went to Facebook, when I got the 90 hate messages per hour and I said, this is not normal. I under the Constitution I have protection and they
said, oh Maria, but you're a public figure. What? Fast forward to a few months ago and Facebook actually put in more protections for journalists and women journalists in particular. Why get Justice, you know, I mean, I want the face of yours. The last part for me. It's that we have elections are presidential elections, are May 9th. 2022. And if Facebook YouTube is the guardrails, aren't put in place. We will not have integrity of Elections, because there is no Integrity of fat on these platforms. So, how would you do it? If I made you not King for the day, but maybe Mark
Zuckerberg for the day you would do what? Route to the first and this I've asked for both behind the scenes in front of me. You know, when January 6th happen, Facebook, kind of break the last of which was the turn up, the news ecosystem quality, meaning they know the difference between news and crap. And so with when they turned it up, what was number? What was, what was in the top 10 in crowdtangle New York Times, cnn-np are right? And they kept it that way for a few weeks until they realize that engagement to drop, you know, it's really hard to tell compelling
stories. We spend our careers learning how to do that and yet those stories will never be the equal of the lies that are salacious that. That's so the data has already shown lies laced with anger and hate spread faster and further than fact, Frances Hawkins, Facebook papers, actually show that right engagement driven mattress. So they turned it back. The news ecosystem quality was put back to them. So so that's one I asked for that. But the other part is, if they really can't change it and get out of the Philippines for a. Of time, you know, although I don't know
whether that is good or bad because our government is using information operation. Will we be able to will we Civil Society be able to push back to get the right? I need Frank that are democracy without it. It's a tough one because, you know, we, it's like the evolution of human behavior. We've already involved with this very with this system. So, yeah. Anyway, I have no clue. If I were Mark Zuckerberg for a day or quality. Number one, number two. The. The difference between
fact and fiction, and I don't mean like, you know, are there two of us having a conversation? That's not the beta or two of us? Are those types of things that you can come on, or what about signals from The Real World, the way pagerank Google page rank, does it? But there's a hundred thirty-five pages that go in but they are linked the real world. And that, when I mean, Authority expertise, do you believe the breaking up? Facebook would solve everything? I don't think it's as much breaking up Facebook. As I think what we have to
do is stop this cussing, the downstream effects, meaning content would move up Upstream to where the algorithmic biases and distribution, where the decisions are made at a tech level, right? So because if you break it up, it does you have the same problems if you have people with no ethics, sorry, you know, let's go back. Upstream. Let's look up. What they are. What are the incentives that are? That will safeguard democracy? And still make them money. We talked about this almost exclusively in the
contacts to Facebook, but invariably algorithms across the border, going to impact things. Algorithms on Twitter, algorithms on Tik-Tok more young. People are on Tik-Tok today that are on Facebook, algorithms on Snap. How concerned. Are you about those algorithms? And is there a broader constructs and framework with which this needs to either be regulated, controlled or otherwise overseen? An extremely concerned because the impact has been Insidious through Society a great book weapons of mass destruction, right? Where some of the case
studies were really about how an educational system, the school system in a state use these algorithms and then wound up taking the built-in bias and weeding out the wrong students. So a lot of these things have happened as we shifted to machines, so it isn't just Facebook, Facebook just happens to be the biggest, you know, hun. I don't think we've ever had almost three billion people on the platform and so you can see the emergent Behavior. The social, the behavior modification is very clear. You can see this year, unconditional Oxford, University competition propaganda.
Research project said the beach cheap armies on social media. Robot democracy. YouTube is now number one in the Philippines and while it isn't the same kind of feed, you know, the recommend Haitian algorithm is just as dangerous as. It's not even do I want to live through you trust company that can't even deal with Facebook. That can't protect the users on Facebook with the data that a Metagross would require fake. It's really great form. But those same fundamental problems. Are there
Coronavirus? This is a perfect example, right? You didn't see a doctor's going out to people and just injecting them. There were, these were registered trials. They develop the vaccine. There were wolves and I guess that's part of it. An MIT Professor wrote. This great book is called the height machine. He said, therefore leavers. We can look at write the code, the code, it sell the business model, shoshana zuboff called surveillance capitalism. So, you know, if we go we move away from the way we used to think of content. It is not a freedom of speech issue. It is the distribution when you when
you pour that distribution away from the Publishers and gave it to attack. They didn't take. They weren't accountable for for it. Can we talk about media and the Trust in Media or rather the distrust in media? Because I think that underneath all of this is something else is also happening at the same time, which is frankly, the public doesn't trust the media and the question really and I ask it as tough as Remember Me this Way. Oh, and I was busy. Yes, of course, they should. But let me put it this way. It's a chicken or the egg question. And again, I go back to the
incentives and let's take it out of social media to the internet because I think the original sin in terms of of media has been, you know, journalism is the entire process, meaning reporter editor, you know, a managing editor, the lawyers, all of the people who make sure that one person's bias isn't there. I mean, technically, you should think Cody should be like this right now. So in that story, but that's very expensive. And yet that entire process that expensive process is how what's the incentive scheme for in the internet. A page
view sense at a time when the economic model when this was an add-on to the old roaring, you know, business of media or the business advertising model of me gets death and pageviews. Have different incentives and then that goes right back to. If you're doing page view. Are you going to do the journalism that matters? Are you going to do the journalism that can get you sued? What is the incentive to continue doing? Public accountability journalism, and that's like, journalism has never been as a distribution platform.
Has the world's largest distributor of new and the data show that it actually prioritises the distribution of Lies over onto itself at least United States is true in the in the UK and a true in many places as big as unto itself. Become polarized that there is a conservative media, and there is often times. It's crap. Is it liberal media? And as a result of that, there are people who will read articles and say, that's fiction. Well, that's intellectually dishonest or its skewed in such a way. To make a particular Point, even you
leveraging facts. Okay, let me take a outside the United States and I will bring it to the US outside the United States. It is part of what's done. This division is polymerization is the is a recommendation algorithm for growing your Facebook or Twitter account. Or if you know, anyone has moved this way, except the United States and I'll go back to let, you know, the legislation that created. I was there at the beginning of CNN. And I was also there when Fox was
created and I felt the impact of this as well, right, so don't go outside the United States, like look at the Philippines. We didn't debate, the facts. We started in the center. We agreed on the facts, right? But with this, how the rhythm of friends of friends, how you grow your own social media platform, your network and how the platform. If you're prone to tear that you moved further, right? If your aunt, I do care that you moved further left. And that's 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020. And each of these, you not given the feed of the other side, right?
So that polarisation is built into the recommendation engine for growth here in the United States. I began to see this with CNN and fox, and that is legislation, legislation changed here. Now, would that have led to this kind of what we are seeing in the US right now in 2010, just looking at those elections, right? We had actually mapped this. And what you could see was the if you pull down hash tag GOP, you can see two circles that were pulling apart, but there was still a bridge, connecting them in social network analysis. It is, I again, I will push the
algorithms, but continue to do that device this divisiveness. But I can't, I don't understand the u.s. Well enough, but I have felt the impact of your polarisation because where you go, you wind up taking the world with you. So, you know Andrew fix this please to but you got in there first and you're doing quite quite a job. I bring something important attention to this issue. Before we let you go. I got to say you are at Harvard in Cambridge. I gather this
was one of the first times you going to get to see your family. I'm going home for a while. My parents are in Florida and our whole family is coming together for Thanksgiving. So, I'm really I am worried about them and I'm excited to be going back. Absolutely. Can I ask what it's been like over the past couple years. How many years has it been now? In 2016. That was when the attacks began. Look my parents sold their home in Florida. And they were, they had moved to the Philippines. I was, I was going to take care of my parents and when I started getting
arrested and my mom was going to go like wherever I was getting arrested, then I had to worry about my parents and and I asked him to come back to the United States. So, the impact on my family, look, for me. It's, it's like being in a conflict reporter year. You used to it. You steal yourself, you prepare for worst-case scenario. My family is a little bit more difficult and dumb. And so I hope you know what, I'm really glad to be here at least to see how my parents are doing and to help them transition better into this life for a while. So, let's see. I hope again elections, right? Like
our elections are coming up and I want to make sure that The hospice is existential. We're like right at the precipice and if we don't get rule of law back in these elections, I don't know what will happen to us. Maria. Ressa Nobel Prize winner. Thank you so, very much for joining us. Thank you so much for the work that you're doing and thank you for helping us and two or more couple days conversations at here, at do book 2021. We are so very, very grateful, and I want to thank all of you will be joining us
throughout these past two days. We've had a ball. Having these conversations would hope that they have inspired you and created its own conversation. I know there's been headlines made and we hope to do this all again next year, and if we do it, right, we'll do it in person, altogether. Thank you again for joining us. See you next year.
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