Disinformation on Social Media Is Threat to Democracy, Rappler CEO Says

November 19, 2020


Maria Ressa says what she’s living through is Kafkaesque.

The crusading Filipina journalist received a John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award on Wednesday from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the latest international recognition of her years-long fight to defend independent media in the Philippines against the authoritarian President Rodrigo Duterte, who denounces her website Rappler as “fake news.”

Ressa, who was convicted in the Philippines in June on what the Press Club calls “trumped-up charges of cyber-libel,” faces up to six years in prison in that case—and could face nearly 100 years if convicted in all the legal cases against her. She’s appealing her conviction and fighting the charges but lives each day uncertain of her future. Human-rights groups describe Ressa’s case as an assault on press freedom with implications for democracy worldwide...

“Social-media platforms end up trafficking in extremism,” said Steven Livingston, founding director of the Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics at George Washington University. “The extremism is then used to aggregate like-minded individuals, so there's a bit of a feedback loop.”

In this environment, Livingston said, authoritarian regimes will stifle independent journalism under the pretext of addressing disinformation.

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