Nobel Peace Prize winner: Social media a growing threat to democracy

HNN's Annalisa Burgos introduces us to a Nobel Peace Prize winner sounding the alarm on how social media is undermining democracy.
Published: Nov. 8, 2022 at 11:30 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2022 at 1:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Elections are the backbone of the democratic process. But social media is a growing threat to election integrity across the world.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa and her media company Rappler ― once connected to a Hawaii billionaire ― is taking a stand for truth.

In metro Manila on the third floor of an office building in the hip Capitol Commons area, it’s business as usual.

Meetings go on, stories are filed, but at any moment, the Philippine government could shut everything down. Rappler’s business license was revoked in 2018 after allegedly violating the Philippine Constitution’s ban on foreign ownership in Philippine media ― all because of a Hawaii relationship.

In 2015, Honolulu Civil Beat publisher, Ebay founder and local philanthropist Pierre Omidyar invested in Rappler, using a financial tool that gives foreigners passive economic interest in a Philippine company..

That investment made Rappler co-founder and CEO Ressa a target of the Philippine government under then-president Rodrigo Duterte. Ressa says it’s retaliation for Rappler’s critical coverage of Duterte’s brutal war on drugs.

“We’re not going to voluntarily shut down, we’re not voluntarily giving up our rights. We are going to continue our work,” Ressa said.

Rappler’s offices reflect the company’s mission.

“Each of these conference rooms have openings so that it’s literally transparent,” Ressa said as she gives HNN a tour.

And the newsroom layout is anything but traditional.

“This was an idea from Star Trek. That is the bridge,” she said. “Large coverage is about information flow. So the space is literally information flow and it is about quick connections.”

10 years since its birth, Rappler now has some 120 employees. Ressa has become a global figure of press freedom and democracy -- winning the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize and speaking to international audiences.

All while fighting politically-motivated lawsuits and charges.

“It’s meant to stop you from doing your job. So for our end, it’s the phrase hold the line,” she said.

Ressa says her fight reflects a larger trend happening across the world -- where dictators are weaponizing social media to uproot democracy.

“The world is watching America with trepidation,” Ressa said. “The division, the polarization, the the move towards extremism in politics, this is alarming.”

“It’s an individual battle for integrity, integrity of facts, integrity of values, because social media takes [the battle] to each of us. And you have to win that battle. Meaning you don’t allow it. We are being insidiously manipulated through our emotions. And what we think of the world our world view is shifting because of that,” she said. “We’re not winning, and a lot will depend on the United States and what happens there, Americans have been manipulated by geopolitical power play, and by 2024 so depends on how you do in your midterms.”

The war she says is not just in places like Ukraine and Myanmar ― but on our screens ― from Manila to Hawaii.

“These tech companies have made us users and consumers. When frankly, what is at stake is our citizenship,” Ressa said. “If fascism wins, if the geopolitical power shifts away from democracy, it will be a long time before we get it back. This is the time to act. This is the time to vote.”

A powerful message this Election Day.