Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist outlines global battle against misinformation on social media

Maria Ressa said many have received death threats and are persecuted by their governments for covering corruption.
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 5:10 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 28, 2022 at 7:10 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As a House committee examines the events that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection, Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa blames a months-long social media misinformation campaign for the violence at the Capitol.

And, she said, it’s part of a disturbing global trend.

More than 300 journalists from 35 countries are in Hawaii this week to discuss ways to restore public trust in news. Many have received death threats and are persecuted by their governments for covering corruption.

That includes the keynote speaker Ressa.

Aside from death threats, arrests and lawsuits, she told the audience that the Philippine government on Monday night ordered her digital news company Rappler to shut down, upholding an earlier decision to revoke its certificates of incorporation.

She said it’s a warning to journalists around the world of what happens when misinformation overpowers facts.

The East-West Center is hosting the conference at the Hawaii Convention Center to talk about how social media algorithms are dividing society.

“The first thing that pops up should not be a very small voice and minority. It should represent a balanced approach,” said EWC President Suzanne Vares-Lum.

“There is a responsibility there knowing the number of people go to social media platforms for their news.”

In her keynote, Ressa said sophisticated social media misinformation campaigns influence democratic elections, like claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

“This is work of the Election Integrity Partnership. And you can see that the narrative of election fraud was introduced in August 2019. Not surprisingly on RT,” Ressa said, during her keynote.

“And then mainstreaming happened when Steve Bannon on YouTube says it. Remember Steve Bannon also linked with Cambridge Analytica and the Trump administration, then picked up by Tucker Carlson, then becomes a super spreader. And then in October, QAnon drops it. And then in November, President Trump comes top down, same thing in all of our countries ― bottom up exponential attacks. Then top down. Same thing happened to us in the Philippines.”

Ressa called on journalists to arm themselves for information warfare ahead of critical elections in the U.S., Brazil, Kenya, India and Indonesia. “When real people who are insidiously manipulated online elect, democratically elect, an illberal leader, and the balance of power in the world shifts, how much more time do we have before we move into a fascist world?” she said.

Voice of America national correspondent Steve Herman says despite the crisis in the news industry, he’s hopeful.

“What we heard from Maria Ressa, others here, and my own experience during the previous administration, is we cannot let fear distract us from our jobs,” he said.

“There’s a lot of attempts to muddy the waters, so to speak, to attack journalists personally, to throw out disinformation. And the purpose is, is not to get you to believe in those alternative facts, but to just sort of distrust all information.”

“Many media organizations, in addition to doing this straight reporting and investigative reporting, are now also doing fact checking to counter all this disinformation. So I think that is something that’s really valuable,” he added.

Meta representatives were at the conference, but declined to speak on camera or comment on what they’re doing about misinformation on Facebook.

They told Hawaii News Now they’re at the conference to listen and provide resources, such as their Journalist Safety Guide and free digital security course from the International Center for Journalists.

You can catch HNN’s extended interview with Maria Ressa here.

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