‘Fighting Back with Data’: Maria Ressa ’86

‘Fighting Back with Data’: Maria Ressa ’86

August 21, 2019 20 By Stanley Isaacs


Tom Weber: So I think Maria has a presentation that
we’re going to go through for a couple minutes and then we’ll have a
conversation and you guys can join in and I just want to add to Ben’s comments.
It’s a particular delight for me to get to meet Maria in person today and be
part of this conversation. You hopefully know Maria was one of the
people that we featured in TIME for our person of the year last year in a package
called “The Guardians,” where the focus was on journalists who are under attack for
their work with some pretty important implications for democracy. So after
staring at Maria on a lot of — Maria Ressa: Poor guy!
Tom Weber: page proofs it is a delight to get to meet her in person. So you want to go through your presentation? Maria Ressa: Sure. First of all thank you thanks so
much for having me, and Ben has been fantastic to really like shepherd me through
campus. First of all you know for me I graduated class of ’86 and walking
through campus that doesn’t change it’s very strange. I feel like I’m remembering
what it was like to be a student so I was walking in the past, and yet I’m in
the present and I’m trying to think about the future, so it’s these rare
moments that I love. I’m going to just quickly go over what we’re dealing with
in the Philippines and why is it important to you? Because we’re a little
bit like the canary in the coal mine. What’s happening to us is happening to
the United States. An easy one is Cambridge Analytica, the most
compromised accounts in the in that scandal happened, were here in the
United States right, but the country with the second-largest number of compromised
accounts was the Philippines. In the Philippines we spend globally the most
amount of time on the internet and the most amount of time on social media. 97%
of Filipinos on the internet are on social media, are on
Facebook. So Facebook is our internet so that’s kind of, we’re a petri dish
essentially. And that’s part of the reason I set up Rappler in the
Philippines. So let me quickly go through – sorry one more time – this is 1980, the end
of the the end of last year when the ball dropped in 2018 and Edward was
there. It was kind of the United States saying let’s bring all the journalists
from CNN to Fox, all of the different places, let’s bring them together for a
ball drop to welcome in 2019. And then I was lucky enough to be the sole
representative for the rest of the international community. I asked that. I
was like me? Anyway so this is the video that ended 2018 and began 2019 but it
backtracks over time into the one year where in 14 months,
beginning January 2018, Rappler was hit with 11 cases. I’ll tell you more about
it later. So here’s here’s what 2018, 2019, how it began and what 2018 is like. It’s three minutes long. Speaker 1: The Securities and Exchange Commission has ordered the closure, Speaker 2: The Securities and Exchange Commission orders the revocation of … Speaker 3: A certificate of incorporation
of online news site now, Rappler. Maria Ressa: We felt that going to get [inaudible] which don’t give any ownership or any control would give us enough the ultimate independence. Rodrigo Duterte: Rappler tried to kill the identity [inaudible], Americans on the books, CIA funded, we don’t know Speaker 4: In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte was elected,
promising to wipe out drug-related crime. It will be bloody, he warned. The funeral parlors will be packed. [Crying] He has kept his promise. Thousands have been killed, many among them the poorest in society. Duterte: Rappler, your articles are [inaudible]. We do not intervene in the affairs of the armed forces. Since
you are a fake news outlet, I am not surprised as your articles are also fake. A week after Trump called CNN and
the New York Times fake news Speaker: They have also shown a principled resistance to the erosion of democratic norms. They have also shown how a newsroom led and staffed by women can stand up to a misogynist president. Maria Ressa: You know, this is the time to fight. This is the time to tell people, here’s the line. And you have to make sure
that our government doesn’t cross it. Because when it does, we’re no longer a
democracy. We at Rappler decided that when you look back at this moment a decade from now, we will have done everything we could. We did not duck. We did not hide. We are Rappler, and we will hold the line. So, what are we facing. Well, like your world, this is a quote I gave to Al-Jazeera,
what’s happening in the world today, if you can make people believe lies are the
facts, then you can control them. How do you know what truth is? This is the
battle for truth. It is the battle of your generation, mine as well.
This is a book by Tim Schneider on tyranny right? And he kind of took it
apart in just these four ways. I talked about this at the Prince last night. Step
one, well look at that. If you want to rip the
heart out of a democracy, you go after facts. That’s what modern authoritarians do. So this wave of populism, there’s a reason
why it’s happening so much quicker now. There’s a global platform. A lie seeded in
one spreads. Step one, you lie all the time. Step two,
you say it’s your opponents and the journalists who lie.
Step three, everyone looks around and says what is truth? There is no truth.
Guys, don’t go there because the minute we go there it gets to number four.
Resistance is impossible and the game is over. This is an existential moment for
journalism and actually pushes forward how information is power right? It’s an
existential moment I think for democracy. Here’s what we’ve seen the global
phenomenon. This is August of 2016 we started seeing something called
patriotic trolling. This is coined by Camille Francoise. She’s with Grafica if
you want to look at some of the stuff. We were working on a project together and
it’s state-sponsored online hate and harassment campaigns meant to
silence and intimidate. Meaning they’re using freedom of speech to incite hate,
pound you into silence right? That’s the technique. Women are a favorite easy
target. You don’t control by censorship anymore. You control by flooding right?
The difference between an excel sheet and big data, that’s what we’re talking
about. A lie told a million times is the truth and these are the three steps that
we’ve seen in the Philippines. I’ve felt it but the woman who really has been
serving two years in prison before her real trial began is Lila de Lima. So the
first this happened to her. First is you allege corruption. You attack the
credibility of whoever the target is. You repeat this a million times. And that
becomes fact. You astroturf it right? Second particularly for women, use sexual
violence and you degrade that woman. You degrade them. You inflame bias as fuel,
misogyny. The minute that happens, your credibility gets shot right? I’ve been
called every animal you can think of ever. I’ll show you some of them. Anyway
we keep going. And then the third one, right before she was arrested, three
weeks before Lila de Lima was arrested, in the beginning of 2017 the
propaganda machine began trending #arrestLiladeLima. And when
she was arrested, it was almost a foregone conclusion. It’s like fertilizer
for this right? In May of 2017 that propaganda machine tried to trend
#arrestMariaRessa. It didn’t trend, which is probably the
reason I’m still not in prison. I’m joking but we’ll talk about it later.
#arrestMariaRessa. Let me show you what happens right? So this is a
pro-government, pro-Duterte propaganda content creator. We published the
conversation between Trump and Duterte and because we did that, he actually then
wrote “Rappler just made the Philippines a legitimate target of North Korean
nuclear missiles.” It sounds really crazy from here right? People believed it. From
there that hashtag, so he began the hashtag, it jumped to
Twitter. Ipatawag na yan sa Senado #arrestMariaRessa.
That’s a campaign account of then-mayor Duterte. From there it jumped to an
overseas account. I can smell an arrest and possible closure of Rappler.com.
This is May 2017 ok? So you can see how it’s seeded. I was arrested in February
13th, it was the Valentine’s Day gift for me. So from there let’s go to the sexual
stuff right? It jumped here. Maybe Maria Ressa’s dream is to become the ultimate
porn star in a gangbang scene. It’s not but you know it’s there on social
media. And then here this was posted on Rappler, where we have almost 4 million
followers. Me to the RP government, make sure Maria Ressa gets publicly raped to
death when martial law expands to Luzon. We’ve had two extensions of martial
law now in Mindanao. These two, the last two, are young men. They were graduating
college and when I posted it the only defense that we had, that I had as a
journalist, is to shine the light. When I posted that, within a day his, the
schools contacted me right? So this kind of information operations that the
government, that many authoritarian-style leaders are using around the world, will
leave an imprint on our values. That worries me right? So anyway that’s part
of what we’re seeing is historical revisionism. The son of Ferdinand Marcos,
his name is Bongbong, ran for vice president in the 2016 elections. He
created social media campaign accounts right? They’re still there and they’ve
gained more power over time but this is the kind of information operations
they’re doing. It’s historical revisionism that martial law wasn’t so
bad. This peppers comment and look at it
right? It’s essentially very, it’s not trying to make you believe one thing. All
it does is just like the attacks on black lives matter. It shifts you
slightly so it’s kind of, think about it, like I have two analogies. It’s like
death by a thousand cuts because every cut seems, you know, it’s just a paper cut.
But if it’s bleeding if you have a lot of these cuts they will they will have
an impact. It’s like termites on a wooden floor and
we’re standing on that floor. These termites – you don’t feel you don’t see –
but that is the impact of information operations like this. Then real
journalists or ex journalists who will see the lie and people believe it
because they don’t know any differently. When I did the series in mid-2016 I got
hit with ninety nine zero hate messages per hour. In this one J Sansa is a
journalist, a former journalist, he’s retired. The other guy is a former
journalist who became a government spokesman a presidential spokesman. But
you can see here he says, how can Ressa be a Filipino when both her parents were
Indonesians. It’s not true but a week later after he posted this, a
classmate from school from Princeton actually called me and asked whether my
parents were Indonesians right? It travels around the world. So it’s not
just fake accounts. It’s real people and you can’t tell the difference. Here’s the
example of the attacks on traditional media. This is January 2018.
Two surveys released the same month. The one on top is the Pew global attitude
survey. They asked Filipinos, do you trust traditional media? 86%
real people said that they trust that they believe traditional media in the
Philippines is the “is fair and accurate.” But the bottom one is the
Philippine trust index and they asked people on social media what they thought
of traditional media. It’s almost the opposite impact. 83%
said they distrusted traditional media. How did that happen that both of these
things are true? Here, this is the data and I’m
gonna show you very quickly what the data means right? Because this is January 2015 to April 2017 and I just want you to look at – these are the
attacks on media that have happened since then. And you can see bayaran
means corrupt, bias I always add an e because I’m a grammar nazi. But how
many times does this happen right? If you look at bayaran and bias, the attacks,
the campaigns, began here. President Duterte was elected here, and the drug
war began here. The weaponization of the drug war happened, sorry, the
weaponization of social media happened during when the drug war began right? And
you can see how, just like in the United States, they pound a fracture line of
society. And they pound it to the point that it becomes truth right? So this is
part of what is happening beneath the surface of how traditional media is
being weakened, how facts are weakened. When facts can’t be trusted
then you don’t have truth. Well you don’t have truth, you don’t have trust right? In
the United States your institutions still work. In the Philippines our
institutions are not as credible as traditional media in the past. So this
has repercussions in our society. So what did we do? We took the data. We began to
look at 26 accounts that seemed to be attacking, and this was early on like
July 2016. If you question extrajudicial killings, like there were eight dead
bodies every night, if you question that on Facebook, you would get slammed.
Very vicious visceral attacks. And what happened? People pulled out. People became
silent and they stopped questioning. Within six months, Filipinos were saying
it is okay to kill right? So what we did with the data is we dumped it in a
database because I needed to help my social media figure out how to respond.
So these are the URLs that spread “fake news,” in
quotes, meaning they’re spreading disinformation, lies. Those 26 fake
accounts, we actually manually counted how many they impacted. It took three
months. 26 fake accounts working together as a sock puppet network could impact
3 million other accounts. That’s just 26 fake accounts. In the
French elections Facebook took down 30,000 fake accounts right? So imagine
the impact of that all right? So here’s where the lies spread. These are the URLs.
These are the Facebook pages that actually spread these URLs, and then
every time it’s reposted more than 10 times, it turns red. I want to bring you
to when we published the propaganda war series. It’s a three-part series that
that showed you how government pro-Duterte accounts were manipulating
Filipinos. And that happened in early October of 2016,
way before Mark Zuckerberg appeared in Congress. Look at the information
operations, and then I want to show you one page, Sally Matay.
This page has since been deleted but in here you can see Sally
Matay is doing a cut-and-paste right? This is a full-time job. And then
you can kind of see where that account look as many as 84 and then
look at the groups where that account posts. Duterte, Marcos pages, this
is where it goes viral right? And these accounts, the campaign pages, have gained
a lot of momentum in the algorithms because they’ve been around since the
campaigns. That’s the data my social media team looks at and then they decide
are they gonna block? Are they going to respond right? When you get 90 hate
messages per hour it’s very hard to respond to everything. You can’t really
deal with it all so you choose your battles. Let me show you and this is the
last thing I’ll show you so we can we can maybe take your questions.
And I’d love to take your questions. This is an attack on our vice president.
Unlike the United States, our vice president comes from a different
political party. If anything happens to President Duterte she takes over but
she’s also a woman under incredibly intense attacks on social media. I think
she, like Lila de Lima, we didn’t know this was happening right? This is what
the data looks like in the attack against her in January of 2018.
It’s called #LeniLeaks. That’s what we pulled out this doesn’t mean
anything to you right? But if we use social network analysis, it looks like this.
This is the foundation of our information ecosystem in the Philippines, social media.
This is an attack on Leni Robredo. And it is so, it is so systematic
that each of these three accounts take care of segments of the population. This
is a pseudo-intellectual account. This one this takes care of creating content
for the middle class. And this takes care of content for the mass base. She’s a
former singer-dancer who helped President Duterte in the campaigns. This
one attacking Leni, they wanted to attack her credibility among the thinking class.
She created the content, was amplified by the middle class, and then boosted by the
mass base account. Each one of the dots they’re Facebook pages right? So from here,
if this forms the foundation of the ecosystem, it jumps to traditional media
through here. She’s a columnist for the Manila Times which is essentially, what will I say, the chairman emeritus of the Manila Times is the head
of international public relations for President Duterte right? So from
there it works hand in hand. The attacks against Leni then worked hand in hand
with state media. And it was around this time that state media said that they
were working with China and Russia. And in fact our Philippine news agency
actually went to Moscow and trained with Sputnik. Isn’t that nice? And then from
there we close the loop. And in April 2017 this
account, the mass base account, was actually given a formal government
position. She headed social media for the Philippine government. She
headed social media for the presidential palace right?
She’s since resigned in December of 2018 because she’s now running for Congress.
She is well anyway let’s keep going. This is what our information ecosystem looks
like today after my arrest February 13th. And you can see and, if I were to map
what the United States looks like, I think the tactics are very similar right?
These are the anti, I’m calling them anti- Duterte clusters, because they kicked
in after I was arrested. And you can see that they share – all of these are
traditional media groups in the Philippines. Not politics.com but this.
Phil Starr, these are traditional media groups. They actively share the stories
from there. But look at what the propaganda machine has done. Pro-Duterte,
pro-Marcos clusters actually are trying, I think here these are all except for
Manila Times they’re all created new content creators. They’re in search of
like an Alex Jones right? So they don’t share traditional media. They avoid it
because what they want to do is to hijack you into an alternative space
where reality is slightly different. Finally what’s the difference in scale?
Huge. Our social media ecosystem is dominated by pro-Duterte, pro-Marcos
communities. It is astroturfed right? So as President Duterte is extremely
popular, unlike Trump, 80% approval ratings plus plus, but is that
real? Is it real or is it astroturf? Is it a bandwagon effect? And then you can kind
of see how tiny this is. And it only happens it becomes bigger when something
bad happens. Unfortunately something bad happens to me, like when I get arrested.
I don’t like getting arrested. But people come in and jump in and they breathe the
trolls. Let me just actually let’s leave it at that.
Let’s leave it at that. I just want to leave you with one thing. I was looking
at the Ukraine. Let’s look at how it connects. Information is power remember?
So on Twitter we did this story a while ago. This account, Ivan. Ivan was tweeting
exclusively about Brexit, then about U.S. elections, then about the Catalan
elections. Then when we found him he was tweeting about the Philippines. When we
posted this story Twitter took his account down, again
within 12 hours or so. But you can see it’s connected to the RT Sputnik
satellite accounts. This one is on Facebook. And this is something
that came from data that was released by the Senate Intelligence Committee last
December. This is the attack networks against Rappler in and around that time.
This is Rappler here. These were the attack dogs. This account, daily centric
net, has since been taken down by Facebook last January. But it’s one year
old and its expert is this guy, an American, who’s used by RT and Sputnik.
And it’s a frequent expert for Iranian television. He’s popped up as an expert
in the Philippines. Facebook took this account down because this is what we’re
dealing with now right? Combined with online and offline violence a climate of
fear. And how do we stand up? You have to start with your area of influence. Clean
it up right? This is at least that’s what we’re asking students in the
Philippines to do, our communities to do. Tom Weber: First you know I just
listening to you today I am reminded again how fortunate I think we all are
that people like you willing to do this work
especially under these conditions. So if you can forgive me I’d like to start
with a little bit of it just a Princeton question maybe. And I think you
didn’t get interested in journalism until after Princeton but could you talk
a little bit about maybe what influenced you from Princeton or what what you find
helpful now and then maybe for this this audience of young people you know what
how did you kind of get on this path. And I’m old enough that my kids are
basically this audience’s age and my friends who are journalists all say
things to me like, oh my kid doesn’t want to become a journalist and thank God
because of the sense maybe not even so much financially but that it is a
profession that is under attack. So I’d love to hear a little bit about what you
took away from Princeton and then kind of also what you think about getting
into journalism. Maria Ressa: Wow okay um. I was pre-med. Like I was a good Asian American.
I did what my mom wanted. I got it out of the way the first two years, and then I
did English and theater and dance. So and then I went and got a Fulbright because
I wanted to go home. I wanted to figure out where home was. Who was I? If you come
from more than one culture this is always a question. And I actually gave
myself until I was 40 to figure out where home was going to be. But I fell
into journalism because 1986 was the people power revolt and when I landed in
the Philippines it was just an incredible time period. So imagine I
began my career. CNN came along then and said you should
be a reporter. I had no experience and I had no experience I think. Anyway I did
it and it’s now a backbone of my identity.
What can you – here’s my advice for you. Coming out of here
you won’t appreciate Princeton until you’re really out, especially if you have
a senior thesis in right? You don’t have the carrels anymore I hear but I lived in
my carrel. I wrote a play for my senior thesis, which was played
which was presented on Intime and then we took it to the Fringe Festival in
Edinburgh>It was amazing Princeton did that right? So the the ties I guess, the first
is always make the choice to learn. What Princeton taught me was that whatever
mess the world is in or whatever mess you are studying, pull a thread and pull
that thread with great persistence till you have clarity of thought. What
Princeton taught me was how to solve a problem. And that’s now a phrase that
Silicon Valley uses all the time, we solve a problem. But Princeton always
taught us that right? How to think, I think that’s what we pull out of this
place and coming out make the choice to learn. It’s okay not to know what you’re
doing. I told the Princetonian last night you know that I had a hard time –
goodness this is not for you – I had a hard time committing
to relationships when I was younger. And committing to a career is just like
committing to a relationship right? And one of my friends gave me the best
advice, which is I love you today. I promise to love you tomorrow. And that
somehow the next days will become a path that will define who you are. And you’re
making the active choice in the moment every day.
Tom Weber: Do we have some people
considering journalism? Maria Ressa: Oh I forgot to answer. Yay!
Great! So our our profession is being clobbered right now right? I mean our
business model is dead. It’s actually true right? And TIME is interesting
because you will see like a 116-year-old startup essentially.
It’s this it’s this fusion of Salesforce buying TIME yeah but I think you’ll see
something. Really it’s similar to what we’re trying to do in Rappler, which is
the fusion of tech and data and journalism. If you ask me what Rappler is
we build communities of action. That’s the elevator pitch. And the journalism is
the food that we feed our communities of action because in the end working 20
years for CNN I got tired of throwing stories into a black hole and not having
any impact right? So why would you want to be a journalist today because just
like a Princetonian it’s a truth-telling role. And it is increasingly dangerous to
tell the truth to power. And it takes tremendous courage and will and
intelligence to stand up to that. The reason why I can stand up to my
government now is because I see the data. I see the manipulation. I see how it’s
weakening democracy. In 14 months I’ve had 11 cases filed against Rappler. I
posted bail eight times. I’ve been arrested twice. Once I mean I was coming
off of a plane March 29th and I was going to go post bail but they still
wanted to arrest me and then they pushed me into a van where there are four
officers in full SWAT gear and three other police officers fully armed. And I
thought it’s a crime to be a journalist. I must be treated like a
terrorist instead right? This is the world we live in today.
Not as bad in the United States but who knows right?
When President Trump called the New York Times and CNN fake news, a week later
that video that you saw President Duterte called Rappler fake news.
So what you guys do here in the States definitely has an impact. Why should you
become a journalist? Because we need good, smart, courageous people. Here’s the
exciting part. Whatever you do today will create what journalism will become. And
journalists are important because without the facts you cannot have
democracy. That’s the biggest problem we have right now
Tom Weber: We’ll take your questions I
just want to ask you one other thing. It is very sobering to see that data and
you know you’ve made a point of saying we still have institutions in
the United States, but it seems that some of the institutions that have affected
you the most, both in terms of giving you a platform in the first place but then
providing others these means to attack you, are also things that were invented
in the United States, namely social media. So we’re how are you feeling right now
about progress in society’s appreciation for this or the specific steps that
people like Mark Zuckerberg are you know clearly under pressure starting to talk
more about. Do you think we’re, which direction is the trendline going?
And I think more important for everyone here, you know, what would you, what are
concrete things that you really want to see done and what should? I assume is
there anybody in this room who is not on social media?
Maria Ressa: See? Oh my gosh you have to see that. They’re all on social media.
Tom Weber: How many of you would describe yourself as somebody who gets your news at least half of the time via social media? and primarily Facebook raise your hand? Primarily Twitter
Maria Ressa: Wow. Tom Weber: And something other than Twitter or Facebook? What platform? Student: Instagram.
Tom Weber: OK. Maria Ressa: Ah. Whatsapp. China is also using… Tom Weber: So against that backdrop what
needs to happen given those very sobering data visualizations you showed us?
Maria Ressa: Ah what needs to happen? So I think first I think it’s ironic that American tech companies
are the ones that with these values right? Liberal values for liberal
democracy are the ones that are actually killing democracy in other parts of the
world. It’s violent in the global south. And when Mark Zuckerberg was in front of
Congress in 2018, for us we had already lived through two and a half years of
stuff nearly at that point. Two years right? I survived it. We’d survived it.
Because this is a new weapon that’s used against journalists and a lot more
against women. What needs to be done? So the first and I think they’re doing it.
Rappler is one of the fact-checking partners of Facebook in the Philippines.
And we fact-check not so much for you know each story, whether each story is
real, because that’s like whack-a-mole right? They just keep popping up
because it’s exponential and it’s cheap. But what we do is once we fact check a
story we can then look at the network that spreads the lie right? So the larger
the circle, the larger the eigenvector centrality, meaning the more powerful
that account is. So we can chart the networks. My background with CNN was
charting terrorist networks. That was what I spent a lot of my career doing in
Southeast Asia. So this is another form of terrorist networks. I think one of the
things that need to happen is Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, the social media
platforms have to take the data and be far more transparent. Put it in a place
where we can correlate the terrorist networks right? And there have to be
consequences when you’re found to be doing information operations. You’re
sorting this out in the United States now with the Internet research agency.
The Russian accounts that have actually. I’ve seen academic research which says
no they didn’t really affect the vote right? These information operations
didn’t affect the vote. You’re missing the point when you say that. It’s not
about convincing you to vote for one or the other.
It is about convincing you that this country doesn’t work right? So what
they’ve done is to actually pound the fracture lines of society. Pound lines of
identity black lives matter. They’re on both sides of that debate right? Measles,
the outbreak of measles that’s happening globally, the internet research agency
was involved in some of that right? Convincing people not to get
vaccinations. This is information operations that weakens you at a
fundamental personal level. That has scale so anyway I’ll shut up about this.
I think that you know there has to be kind of like a global Interpol right? We
need to run after these people and I’m seeing this is creative destruction
that’s happening now right? I am seeing Facebook. Facebook has done three
takedowns in the Philippines. One of the takedowns, the largest one in January this
year, was for a network we identified 13 months earlier. Imagine the destruction that could have been avoided right? This is not a good
time to be on social media or to be a journalist. It’s dangerous. It’s difficult.
It manipulates you. Television in the past was seen as manipulative but
nothing matches social media. When you’re on social media your brain is literally
being rewired. Your hormones are being shifted. Dopamine if you’re familiar with
a dopamine high right? It’s mildly addictive and that kicks in when you’re
on social media. And the technologists, the engineers who built it, have
actually optimized to manipulate us so we spend the most time on site. So all of
these things need to shift because it’s bad for democracy but we’ll see how fast
they do it. Paul Nadal: Hi Maria, thank you so much for your presentation. My name is Paul Nadal and I’m a new faculty member in the English department and American studies here. What I really appreciate about your presentation, I’m really intrigued by the images of the social network
analysis that you shared with us, and it reminded me right of the Filipino diaspora, and to me the Filipino diaspora as you know is large and extensive, so my question has to do with what role has Filipinos overseas [inaudible] in Asia in this fight you know for truth that Rappler is engaged in and whether or not you’ve seen a shift and involvement of Filipinos overseas. Maria Ressa: So the easy part of the question is the
last part. The engagement of Filipinos in general have increased right? That’s what
social media has done because we were able. The overseas, the way the Duterte
campaign ran it is they broke down four different groups by island, Luzon Visayas
Mindanao and overseas Filipino workers. And then they had a central messaging
group that would tell each of these networks what’s the message of the day
right? Overseas Filipino workers were great supporters of President Duterte.
Not your demographic class though here. So it’s still the Middle East. Saudi
Arabia has a million Filipino workers There are roughly 10 to 12 million Filipinos
living overseas. There is a small diaspora that is already starting to
stand up against the human rights violations. That’s happening. It’s pushing
for press freedom. A group in Stanford started something, strengthened a group
called the Malaya movement. Malaya means free. They were just in DC lobbying and
again these are things you know, it’s strange as a journalist to think that we
would lobby for something but I don’t. I speak from my experience now that I know
how power has been abused. There is no way that these cases should have
proceeded as far as they’ve gone. Especially since Imelda Marcos who’s
been convicted on many cases has paid less bail than I have and has never been
arrested. I mean really sorry. So what role can they play? A lot more because
you’re not afraid here right? In the Philippines this isn’t for you either. In
the Philippines we now have to deal with increased security for Rappler I have to
deal with increased security. Walking around Princeton without security is
incredible. It’s so liberating. So the oppressiveness is starting.
It’s palpable and there will only be a few months where we can fight to
preserve our Constitution because we have elections May 13th. And if we lose
an independent Senate that will mean that we can pass a new constitution. And
so by the end of the year if the Philippines has a new constitution we
won’t be a democracy anymore, which actually will make it easier for me
because then I don’t have to fight anymore. Student: It seems like these social media forces have [inaudible] Rappler so I’m curious. Do you have any strategies for how you can reclaim that part of the audience that in a way has been taken from you by these forces? Maria Ressa: Yeah it’s a fantastic question. and the answer is TBD. Here’s what I’m
focusing on right? We’re focusing on doing investigative journalism. Because
all of this is meant to distract us and take away our resources from
investigative journalism. So in the last week the Philippine Center for
Investigative Journalism and Rappler we published stories that looked at the
Duterte wealth. President Duterte in response attacked. And at one point there
is a series that also looked at the relationship to drug syndicates of the
Duterte family. He threatened President Duterte in response to that threatened
to take away the writ of habeas corpus and to declare a Revolutionary
Government. How do you handle that? I think so for me I’ve moved away. Part of
it is I think if I lose that segment of the audience now truth has a long
gestation period and lifeline. I feel like what we need to do is to constantly
call it out. The reason I keep coming home, and keep getting arrested,
the reason I keep coming home is because they need to be actions and these
actions define further descent of our democracy into a more authoritarian
style rule right? These actions carry names of people and history. As long as
we’re on the right side of history there will be a reckoning and these names will
pop up again. I hope your generation does a better job than my generation in terms
of holding these those who abuse those who act with impunity holding them to
account. But the record is clear so the quick
answer is I can’t fight for them now. We just have to do what we do right? It’s
not micro-targeting and I will lose them for a period of time but I have great
faith that in the end we’re on the right side of history. Student: I wanted to ask you a little bit of your thoughts on the impact of technology. You mentioned Facebook.
I think Google has so much power over us and how we receive and perceive truth. Most people search on something and click on the top five things Other people [inaudible] fact-checking [inaudible] change the landscape. Have you been in discussions about how we can use technology in the future, how we would impact it? Also, if you had a superpower to click a button
and shut down Facebook, would you do that? Do you think
social media has done more harm to our society fundamentally than good? Maria Ressa: That’s a great question.
Remember Rappler couldn’t exist without social media so I know the upside. We
grew 100 to 300 % year-on-year our first four years. And we did that with
social media. And we use social media for social good. I drank the kool-aid. We
built communities of action with Facebook. We used it for disaster risk
reduction. We helped people with it right? So no I wouldn’t throw it out. But I
would as I am doing now, I’m demanding clear concrete actions from social media.
And I think these platforms understand that because they’re not stupid.
They call them unintended consequences. You’d hope every day they
don’t change means that someone in the global South dies. The consequences in my
country, in the countries outside the United States, it’s life and death you
know. So for me despite that, this kind of time period is is horrendous but I’m not
gonna throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think that this is if you’re
an engineering student, if you’re a humanities student, part of the problem is
that the engineers went and built something without the mission right? I
mean, this is what you’re gonna learn from Princeton, how to think it out. How
to create a better world. There is a purpose for it. I hope
or maybe I’m too idealistic but I felt it. So I’m working with them to actively
try to clean it up and to bring it back to where it is a force for good. We
worked very closely with Google, Twitter, with Facebook, and I think Google got it
right when they did the page search, the rankings right? But it’s as you can see
the methodology we use is not content. That’s why Americans sometimes get lost
in the is it truth. Is it not? Is it free speech, are you stifling free
speech? It’s not about the content, it’s about the network that spreads
disinformation. You pegged that. That’s what I was proposing. And in the end all of
these, look us now, the stuff on Facebook they’re all on YouTube right? And the
video that’s there is propaganda as well. It’s meant to manipulate you. So they
actually need to work together far more closely but part of the reason they
can’t is because the kind of environment we’ve created. They can’t move without
serious repercussions. At the same time enlightened self-interest. If they don’t
move there will be serious repercussions right? They’re also caught in a catch-22.
But here’s what I’m seeing right? If you look at the data of what Facebook has
taken down in the last yea, let’s just say 2018 until today, they hired a guy
named Nathaniel Glacier in January 2018. He used to head cybersecurity for the
Obama White House. Every announcement of a takedown on Facebook is by him and you
can kind of see how they are taking the same idea and looking at networks and
pulling them down. That leads to the next step. If you’re pulling down networks,
will you allow lies to stay in place right? They all took Alex Jones down. Why
did it take so long and what will they do for the Alex Jones that are
percolating in countries like the Philippines? These are questions Student: So you don’t think it’s just having the good technological innovation it’s about the people who are using those technologies. even if it has to be like decentralized
technology that fact-checks everybody on different terminals, it will be about who are using those terminals rather than just having that technology itself. I’m talking a long-term future. Maria Ressa: Long-term future is that it’s kind of
the same way that the gate-keeping powers of journalists evolved over time right?
And then we evolved our standards and ethics manual.
I think technologists are gonna have to figure out what are the underlying
principles and values that they’re building for. I suggest the sustainable
development goals for one. That would be a positive right? But if you look at it
they’ve atomized everything, which is the way tech looks at everything. Content
moderation is atomized and that’s part of the reason why you have you know it
was a Filipino who took down the napalm girl. You know which one I’m talking
about. The Vietnamese, this iconic Vietnamese photo of the girl who was
naked running away from the napalm. That was taken down by a content moderator in
the Philippines because there’s a tick, naked, right? You can’t take
the world – the technologist approach needs to be complemented by the humanist
approach. Tom Weber: Facebook ad technology, I don’t know if you followed, basically there’s been redlining in Facebook ads.
People were able to exclude or include certain groups for real estate ads. So you can post a real estate ad seen by a you know biased audience. No one made Facebook, I mean,
all it took was somebody in a meeting or a job to say, that’s not
something we should allow. It’s something we can we have the technology for.
Ressa: Right. Tom Weber: But this is wrong
Maria Ressa: Right Tom Weber: but that doesn’t seem to happen that much
among, as you say, it’s so atomized and so dispersed within these companies.
Maria Ressa:I think they’re just starting to figure, that they’re just starting to hire the
right people with the skills to look at impact if that makes sense. Because again
think about so, the perfect one is Nathaniel and this team of investigators
who are doing a law enforcement issue. Like think about them like the
Department of Justice. There’s another group that’s like the CIA right? Another
group like the FBI. These are all different parts. I mean Facebook puts
together 2.5 billion accounts globally. Part of the reason a lie spread so fast
now is precisely because there are no boundaries of nation-states.
So that’s part of what they need to include into the equation when they
think about it. And I don’t think that the end sorry, not against any engineer,
but that’s part of the problem is that the engineers will take it out and
they’ve optimized to keep you on site. They already are they built it because
they created it number one. Number two regardless of whatever loss because I
think what you’re saying is maybe this should be governments legislating and
they’re starting to legislate and you know what, government legislators don’t
understand the technology. And they’re actually going to kill part of the
potential that is there. Number three, regardless of how we engage with
Facebook, they’re already doing it. Google has already done it. Twitter has
already done it right? We have no choice. Now your choices, you can choose not to
be part of it, but what are the consequences for doing that? Actually I
would suggest at your age that it may not be bad not to be on social media
because so much of identity forming happens at this point in time. Tom Weber: Can I ask you guys. I know Facebook
is used in a lot of organizations and maybe even you know even some campus
activities for scheduling whatever. If you think you could just delete your
Facebook account without it affecting your life here as a student without any
problems, raise your hand. But not necessarily everyone. Ben,
how are we doing? Ben Chang: I think we have one more, perhaps. There was another question Student: Hi, my name is Saroo.
Maria Ressa: Saroo! Nice to meet you in person Student: I’m a neuroscience ph.d. student so a lot of these graphs and [inaudible]. I’m also a member and organizer with the International Coalition of Organization for Human Rights Maria Ressa: Fantastic!
Student: I find it interesting that you brought up the Malay movement, which is a movement
that we collaborate pretty closely with I just came from DC actually doing s
ome of those lobbying visits Maria Ressa: Ah, I want to hear. Over the weekend, over 350
people showed up to DC Filipino and non-Filipinos alike,
our allies and those who are just interested and concerned about where our US tax dollars go to convened to basically call out the human rights violations in the Philippines. And for organizations and
alliances like [inaudible] and also Malaya movement, we kind of see this issue as
part of a larger human rights issue in the Philippines. I mean also escalating nationalism,
in the Philippines that also is influenced by what’s happening in the US, like you mentioned. and so folks like us, like posting
that we’ve been these types of movements are actually like we definitely feel
like when you said like what is Rappler? It is the fuel for the action of
communities and that is what I like really wanna rewind to and kind of allude
back to Dr. Nadal’s point earlier about what Filipinos can do. When we were lobbying again we had three demands basically for different Congress people, different Senators. I
mean I think one of the most relevant ones is house bill 233 and
Senate resolution 142. Maria Ressa: Yes bipartisan Yes, calling on the government of the Philippines to release prisoner Lila de Lima and all human rights offenders such as you is
what we would consider you to operate without fear of reprisals. The other demands all of which amount to
184.5 million dollars and these are taxes that
we pay for, and this is really ridiculous I know my question for you, also a fun fact, Maria was also the keynote speaker through video message of the summit this weekend. So thank you so much for those inspiring words. So my question for you is,
how do you think Princeton particularly, and maybe we can expand that to other
intellectual schools, like other Ivy Leagues, can be involved in the people’s movement to support Filipinos? Whether you’re Filipino or not Maria Ressa: I mean first, thank you for going
to DC and I’m happy to meet you finally When I was a student in McCosh it
was a petition against apartheid. That’s how long ago it was. Your battle is the
battle for truth. It is. Truth is connected with human rights, with the
growth of authoritarian populist dictators. Sorry. It’s of a
type right? The Putin-esque information operations that I think of Russia as B
to C and China as B to B you know what I mean by B to B? China just signed a deal
with the Philippine government doing video surveillance, giving video
surveillance equipment to the Philippines. Human rights, the right to
freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the Bill of Rights, the
Philippine Constitution is patterned after the US Constitution. These are
under threat. And so again why does it matter to you? Because this battle is
already at your borders. It’s inside your country. I think we were a test case.
We’re the canary in the coal mine and we’re a test case because I hate to say
the Philippines was a former colony of the United States. A hundred million
people who speak English. Almost every new product rolled out is first rolled
out in the Philippines before it moves to English-speaking countries. Yahoo
used to do this. The other tech platforms do the same thing. So the fight
for human rights, this is at the core. The sustainable development goals,
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, these are at the core of of
liberal democracies. This is I think critical to your future. So you have the
intellect, the time, and I hope the idealism to fight this. And I have to say
thank you for the Prince, and and the journalists who, Kathy Keely,
and the other hundred former Prince journalists and former
journalists including Mike McCurry we still take him as a journalist, who were
Princeton graduates who came out with statements. Our survival, my survival in
the Philippines, is all dependent on how we shine the light and that’s driven
by you. So I felt it. That’s the reason I came here. Thank you. Yeah thank you.
Because this helps our battle. Thank you for going to DC. You know I wasn’t an activist when I was here in Princeton but this is a weird world
right now. You’re creating the world so I hope that answers your question. Thank
you. [Applause]