Opinion | Will Maria Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize Force Mark Zuckerberg to Wake Up?


[THEME MUSIC]

archived recording

(SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway?

kara swisher

I’m Kara Swisher, and you’re listening to “Sway.” Earlier this month, my guest, Maria Ressa, who, by the way, is also a friend, was on a Zoom when her phone rang.

archived recording (maria ressa)

Hello?

archived recording

Am I talking to Maria Ressa?

archived recording (maria ressa)

You are, yes.

archived recording

I’m calling you on behalf of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

kara swisher

Maria was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which she shared with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov. In announcing the prize to Ressa, the committee said she, quote, “uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence, and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines.” I’m glad the Nobel Committee has caught up, because I’ve been touting Maria’s work for years. Yes, for her coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal regime, but also for her very early reporting on social media misinformation and the spread of Facebook-fueled lies in her region. These days, she’s been doing most of this via Rappler, a news site she co-founded almost a decade ago. During that time, online abuse, government persecution, and death threats have gotten in her way. But that hasn’t stopped her from reporting the truth in one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. So I wanted to talk to Maria about what message the Nobel Committee may have been trying to send by giving journalists the award, and what the world can learn from her experience. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Maria Ressa, welcome to “Sway.” So what is your reaction to winning?

maria ressa

Yeah, I’m still stunned, you know? And I am just — Kara, look, when they called, I said I was speechless, but ironically, I just kept saying speechless. I still don’t know, because all of a sudden, there was this flurry of activity. And I thought I was busy before. And now I just have no idea of busy, right? The Nobel Committee gave us a spotlight, and I wanted to shine the spotlight on Venezuela. The editors in Venezuela were having a hard time. The ones in India, in Indonesia. And yet, I’m also still trying to do my work. We’re building a tech platform. I run Rappler. So yeah, it’s crazy.

kara swisher

So did you expect to win something like this? You’ve won awards. You’ve won Time Person of the Year and all kinds of things, and all deserved. Was this something that surprised you?

maria ressa

Oh, my God, of course, it surprised me. And no, I didn’t. I think the first inkling we had of it was a few days before, CNN had asked. And I just thought it was one of those lists, right? They had a list of the people, and so they just wanted to get a number. So I was— guys, don’t worry, it’s a long shot. And my desk was thinking, should we prepare? The announcement came on the last day of the filing of the candidacies for our May 2022 elections, so we were running around like crazy already. And then the trigger that made some of our desk people really plan was when a senior Norwegian journalist just kept asking for my cell phone. But still, I was shocked.

kara swisher

Right, right. So, out of 13 people who won the Nobel Prize this year, you’re the only woman. And since the Nobel prizes were given out in 1901, only 58 women have won. That’s out of nearly 1,000 winners. But the head of the Swedish — Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards some Nobel prizes, said the committee will not implement quotas for gender or ethnicity, despite pressure to do so. Can you talk a little bit about this? What does that mean? It’s a great thing to win, but being the only.

maria ressa

I’m divided on this. I guess, when I first migrated to the U.S., I was the only brown kid in my class in Toms River, New Jersey, from the Philippines. I was about 10 years old. And when I was applying to Princeton, I actually thought twice about whether I’d tick off the minority, right? Because you don’t want to be admitted because you’re a minority. You want to be admitted because you deserve to be admitted. And then, of course, there’s another part that says, well, if I get in, does it matter? And I guess, in a weird way, this isn’t what it should be, but I will say that the technology that now unites the world has forced women many steps back. And this I know from the Philippines. The reality is the culture follows leadership, right? And our leadership, both in your country and mine, have taken many, many steps back with the kind of misogynistic sexist stuff that is encouraged, that is given incentive on social media platforms. So I always pegged it to that. The technology has actually pushed us back I think decades, because these strong-men leaders, these populist leaders, have given permission to people who would have been ashamed to say these things in person.

kara swisher

And they can do it online.

maria ressa

And they can and they do. And it changes behavior.

kara swisher

Within your country and the United States and elsewhere.

maria ressa

Yeah.

kara swisher

The other thing is that you’re the first working journalist to win this Nobel Prize since 1935. What do you think that message says? Journalists don’t deserve the Nobel Prize or what? I’m teasing you.

maria ressa

Well, when I looked at that — because of course, I did that the day after. Because this prize gave journalists — we got a surge of energy from it. But here’s the danger. I looked at that, and I was like, oh, my God, the last time a journalist received this prize, he languished in a Nazi concentration camp. And he died because of the torture that he had gone through from there. So I was telling our core managers. I was like, guys, let’s still continue to be cautious and prepared. So, essentially, the Nobel Committee kind of shone the light and told us that this moment is exactly like that moment. It feels like an atom bomb exploded in our information ecosystem. And we need to do exactly what happened post-World War II in order to deal with it, to solve this.

kara swisher

This is absolutely something you talked about for a very long time. Do you think it’s a particularly dangerous time to be reporting? Do you think it’s gotten worse?

maria ressa

Yeah, absolutely. And the tech platforms are part of that, right? In fact, they were the first part of making it significantly worse. We’re used to speaking truth to power. We’re used to power coming at you and challenging you. What we didn’t have before is kind of the blatant, you’re fake news. And when former President Trump did that to American journalists, a week later, President Duterte did that to Rappler. And I think that kind of attack is enabled by technology, by social media, because you see this in every country around the world, these kinds of bottom-up astroturfing attacks. When you say a lie 10 times, truth has a chance of catching up. When you say a lie a million times on social media with the algorithmic distribution and the choices that these platforms make to actually prioritize the spread of the lies, laced with anger and hate, over the facts, you don’t have a chance. Because in 2016, when I was getting deluged with attacks, at that point, I was telling them, look, here are these attacks. They’re wrong. They’re libelous. If this was said to me in person, it’s slanderous. And they were like, well, Maria, you’re a public figure. And I think it’s a naive and a wrong interpretation of what that is because I’m not a politician. I’m a journalist. And under my Constitution, which is patterned after the United States, we have the Bill of Rights, which gives protections to journalists.

kara swisher

In the Philippines, right.

maria ressa

In the Philippines, just like in the United States. But what the platforms did, because they didn’t understand the whole complex process of checks and balances and how tough it is to be a journalist, they stripped away that protection. There’s no way to actively respond to it, except to do what I was doing, which is to ask for enlightened self-interest from the social media platforms. And they finally, they announced this policy on putting back protections around journalists. How many years did it take before we got it back?

kara swisher

Did you see either the U.S. or Philippines heading to where they’ve gone, Trump, Duterte coming to power?

maria ressa

Absolutely not. What we saw from 1986, which is when People Power happened, and People Power was really a spark for a global movement for democracy, that we were all absolutely certain that democracy was forever. And then I think now, in 2016, during the elections, someone actually asked me, you know, martial law. Can you actually — can we go back to those dark times? And I said no. And the reason I gave is social media. That’s how foolish I was. I could not have imagined.

kara swisher

Because you thought it would be a Democratic-leaning thing. So you met Duterte very early in the 1980s, I think. You had a seminal interview with him in 2015, shortly before he announced he was running for president, ironically similar timing to when Trump was running. That interview with Duterte is rather eye-opening Here’s a clip.

archived recording (maria ressa)

So no qualms about killing killers.

archived recording (rodrigo duterte)

Yes, of course. I must admit I have killed.

Three months early on, I killed about three people.

kara swisher

Wow, here’s a presidential candidate telling you he’s killed people, about three of them. What were you thinking when he told you that?

maria ressa

I was shocked because what do I do? Do I dive in on it? Do I push him on it? At that point, he was a dark-horse candidate. And like he is doing today, he was playing about even announcing whether he was going to be a candidate. I learned a lot in the last six years about how journalists, how we get pulled into these meaningless, watching things happen when, in the end, it’s a tactic of misdirection. I didn’t really know how to handle Duterte. All I did was kept my face kind of calm, and then I just followed up. And I think about that moment all the time. Should I have made more of it? In the end, I wrote a piece about the contradictions of Duterte, that he admits to violating the law, but he will be in charge of implementing the law. It’s something I followed up later on in the last interview I did with him. To me, he admitted that he likes using violence and fear. He wanted to scare people into submission, but he also explained this to me. He basically said, you don’t understand the Filipino psyche, Maria. And who am I to say? This man has been in power in Davao City since 1988, and he’s president of our nation, right? So he basically told me that Filipinos are just so unruly that you have to make them afraid, which he’s carried out.

kara swisher

So your response is, I think I’ll create a website devoted to investigating his corruption.

maria ressa

Well, Rappler was created because we wanted to do more than just journalism, but with the standards and ethics of journalism. So it really was a way to try to imagine what would technology in journalism look like if we wanted to use the social media platforms to build communities of action? Because there are two data points I had then. One was, people listen to their family and friends over newsgroups. And if you think about it now, Facebook decided in 2018, they pivoted to family and friends because they were already trying to manage the impact of news. And they were realizing that this is far more complex than they had ever realized. But here’s the thing. When you take news, facts, and you just amplify family and friends, and you’re already being insidiously manipulated by power, you just made disinformation far more powerful by de-emphasizing the facts.

kara swisher

So do you think Duterte and Trump grokked that connection? I think they did. They understood that connection of reaching out to people directly and then getting them to share it.

maria ressa

Yeah, absolutely. So what happened is that the algorithms of the social media platforms, because it’s not just Facebook, but these algorithms were exploited and helped the rise of these populist authoritarians, using us against them styles of leadership. Because what spreads fastest is anger and hate. How do you do that? You attack the other side. You foment fear in one side. It is the worst of human nature. Good leaders try to unite, but these types of leaders divide. And then, on these American platforms — that’s the other irony of it, America, which is supposed to be a beacon of democracy. On these American platforms, the power of that kind of rhetoric and leadership is amplified at least times four.

kara swisher

Yeah, you would call that weaponizing the internet. And you’ve previously said, quote, “Where the Philippines goes, America follows. Take the weaponization of social media. We were a test case for America.” You predicted pretty much everything that would happen.

maria ressa

Yeah, and I’m sad that it happened. And when January 6 happened in the United States, we saw — you saw it. We all saw it coming. Little Rappler and me in the Philippines, it all flowed downhill. But we weren’t the first. The Ukraine is the first in 2014. And I think the hard part is to even see the rhetoric now, the way the debate has been framed. It took so long to move people away from content moderation because it’s not about the content. We get lost in this free speech issue. It isn’t a free speech issue, right? It’s a distribution issue. Sacha Baron Cohen said it’s not a freedom of speech. It’s a freedom of reach. So, January 6, that was the end of a year-long process. And that year-long process began in 2019 on RT. And then it was picked up by Steve Bannon, seeded on closed pages, then picked up and mainstreamed by Tucker Carlson, then picked up by QAnon, right? So you have this bottom-up, QAnon comes as a super spreader, and then President Trump comes on top of that. And the thing is that people still think about it as it’s just the content. It’s just saying it. But they don’t look at it as a behavior modification system, which it is.

kara swisher

Propaganda, really. It’s called, I think Renée DiResta just called it ampliganda, which is amplified propaganda. I’m not using the word misinformation anymore. I’m just going to say propaganda.

maria ressa

Yes, but propaganda doesn’t even have the whole thing of behavior modification. This is about human behavior. So the quote I like best is E.O. Wilson, where he says our greatest crisis is our Paleolithic emotions, our medieval institutions, and our godlike technology. This is changing our behavior. And here’s the last part. We know from studying the way terrorism spreads is that we all started first with looking at the hijackers. And then we realized that individuals behave differently in groups. And then you move to emergent behavior, which is human beings at scale behave differently. Emergent behavior is like, think of the flock of birds, where an individual bird may not know exactly where they go, but a wing tips and then the group behaves. So there is pressure of the group on individuals to behave in ways that individuals would not normally behave. And that’s the biggest danger of the social media platforms, is that by putting us at scale, unprecedented, never-before happened, and then using algorithmic principles to manipulate us, they choose what spreads through it. And what they’re doing is technically amplifying the worst of human nature.

kara swisher

Right. All right, let’s talk about Facebook as a weapon. About 70 million Facebook users in the Philippines out of a population just north of 100 million. It’s a huge megaphone. What are the main strands of misinformation and disinformation that Facebook helped spread in the region?

maria ressa

All the meta-narratives that you have, right, like Duterte is the best leader in the world. The Pope said Duterte is, and then all the congratulations. I think the first step was to take out the DDS. It used to be the Davao Death Squad. And within a few weeks of him taking office, DDS began to stand for Duterte Diehard Supporters. How you can watch in plain view while words that were negative were turned positive. So it started by spinning the narrative propaganda, but propaganda on steroids. And then after that, they went after potential critics. And the first were —

kara swisher

Such as you.

maria ressa

Me, but Leila de Lima, who’s a senator now, who’s serving her fifth year in prison. It’s almost like that was the fertilizer before the government took actions. It’s always bottom up on social media and then top down. The weaponization of the law was always preceded by the weaponization of social media. And Facebook was that. And I think the other part is now that as we walk into our May elections, this is the greatest danger. We will not have integrity of elections if we don’t have integrity of facts. And that’s why I continue to appeal to these American companies to put guardrails, voluntarily do it, turn up the dial on news, which we now know is possible. They did it, and then they realized, oh, no, there’s less engagement, meaning we make less money. So let me turn it back down and let the lies proliferate, right?

kara swisher

So you personally warned Mark Zuckerberg about the dangers of Facebook in the Philippines, and you asked him to come see what was happening for himself. Can you talk about that encounter?

maria ressa

Yeah, this was in April of 2017 on the sidelines of the F8 Conference that they have. Before then, I had already spoken to at least 50 different officers and people working inside Facebook because by August 2017, we were under full attack. 2016 to 2018 was when we watched our information ecosystem get torn down and our world turned upside down. I came under attack. I mean, come on, Kara, 10 arrest warrants in less than two years. It’s like, I don’t even know how to react to it.

kara swisher

So you see him at F8.

maria ressa

I see him at F8, and his smarts struck me. He’s very smart. He could understand all the different technologies that we were bringing up. But I think what made it different was I wanted him to understand how he was determining what was happening to the Philippines and what was happening to me, right? I explained how powerful Facebook was. And I said 97% of Filipinos on the internet are on Facebook. And then he asked me a question. He was very quizzical. He just said, wait, wait, what are the other 3% doing?

kara swisher

Oh, geez.

maria ressa

And we laughed. The table laughed because it was — I guess it wasn’t that it was cute, it just didn’t dawn on me what it was showing, because the halo of Facebook was still there. I was working very constructively behind the scenes and continue to be a partner, even though I continue to demand better, because I felt that that’s the only option. You must publicly demand better because we are at risk. And then I just talked a little bit more about what was happening. And I asked for help. I always ask for help, because this is not within our control. That’s the thing.

kara swisher

Right.

maria ressa

Oh, I also spoke to Sheryl Sandberg, at that time. And she listened —

kara swisher

So what did they say to you? We’ll listen. We’re listening. We hear you. What was the reaction? What did they say to you to assuage your worries?

maria ressa

Sheryl asked me to contact her. And then I never heard back. And just trying to stay alive as a digital organization under attack and as a person.

kara swisher

Can you give people a sense of what the attacks were like?

maria ressa

It’s horrific. I felt this, and we could see because we monitor — I think that’s the other thing that Rappler had. We had a research team. Here’s what they found in studying almost half a million social media attacks against me, from 2016. So 60% of the attacks are meant to tear down my credibility. And then, the other 40% are meant to tear down my spirit, that includes death threats, that includes trying to find any weakness. I have a mole on my nose. I have eczema. I have dry skin, atopic dermatitis. So one of the memes that they spread is — actually, was a weakness, was a vulnerability. But then, when they spread it, they actually made it a strength for me. I don’t mind telling you now, I have atopic dermatitis. But what they did is they dehumanized me by constantly using me as a meme. I’ve been called every animal you can think of. The worst part is their nickname for me, which they even did code words for, which is scrotum face. So they took my head and then spliced it onto human genitals. And this would be months where I would wake up and the comments of their echo chambers would be filled with this horrific image. And it takes a while to recover, but I recovered. And I realized that part of every recovery from this is sharing it with people. That’s when I know that the sting is gone. And here’s the part that our data showed us. Our data showed us that women were attacked at least 10 times more than men. So this connects to that question of changing the culture. So if women are attacked 10 times more than men, what’s the end goal of these attacks? There are two. The first is to pound the target to silence. The second is to create a bandwagon effect, manufactured reality, to make anyone else who’s not aware of it think that this is actually true.

kara swisher

So when you talked to Mark and Sheryl, what — and they did nothing. They didn’t call you back. There’s nothing that happened. Was there any follow up whatsoever?

maria ressa

I tried to do — I always say you have to draw a line. So I tried very hard to draw lines between our operations because Rappler is — we were one of their alpha partners, essentially, in the Philippines. And so I really wanted to help them because I think at the beginning, they didn’t really know. And then, I was very quiet and trying to work with them to show them what was happening here. And we still work with them.

kara swisher

Do you think that was a good decision? Because my methodology was to hit them over the head as many times as possible until it got through to them. But I’m not in the situation you’re in.

maria ressa

So part of it is I run an entire — I run this news group. And I guess, part of it is the fast growth, and I can even show this in terms of numbers. Our steep trajectory when we first grew from 2012 to 2016, was because of Facebook. These platforms determine whether news organizations live or die. And we actually saw that. So I think at the beginning, I was trying to understand them as a power source because they were also new. But then, over time it was — you knew that it was getting all the way up. And that when everything is centralized the way it is in Mark Zuckerberg, then somehow the organization needs to find ways to mitigate his weaknesses.

kara swisher

Do you think your Nobel Prize will be a wake-up call for people like Mark Zuckerberg to listen to you? I think it should be. Or the Facebook whistleblower, Francis Haugen, testimony before Senate. Will that be a wake-up call for them? Do you think that’s the case?

maria ressa

I think it was a bad week, the week of the Nobel Prize because what Francis Haugen did was the tipping point in terms of — well, first politics. The bipartisan — both Democrats and Republicans finally coming together. But I thought it was great that they came together on Facebook’s own reports about the impact on teenagers. But I thought it was really bad that they didn’t extend that to what that means for the people on the front lines, for the human rights defenders, for journalists, that what this means is that insidious manipulation. It’s not because the teenagers are weak mentally. It’s that the weaknesses of human beings’ biologies are being exploited by these platforms.

kara swisher

So again, do you think it’s a wake-up call for them? I don’t. I think they’ve moved into defense mode, very significantly.

maria ressa

I got to remain optimistic. I think you’re probably right because of the money involved. And that’s something that also took me a few years because I believed — and maybe, I know I wrongly believed — that like news organizations, they would take the responsibility of the public sphere seriously. They certainly hired a lot of journalists at a certain point.

kara swisher

Yeah.

maria ressa

I do think they exploded an atom bomb in the information ecosystem. And it cannot happen again. And it keeps happening again, every day. So I hope they listen. [MUSIC PLAYING]

kara swisher

We’ll be back in a minute. If you like this interview and want to hear others, follow us on your favorite podcast app. You’ll be able to catch up on “Sway” episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with Bellingcat founder, Eliot Higgins. And you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Maria Ressa, after the break. [MUSIC PLAYING]

You were on Fareed Zakaria’s show the other night. And I noticed you had your lawyer, Amal Clooney, with you, which seems I guess necessary given the legal scrutiny — I would say even persecution — you’re facing from government lawsuits. Can you explain the lawsuits you’re facing? And let me read from The Atlantic, “A judge convicted the Philippine journalist, Maria Ressa, for an article she did not write, edit, or supervise, of a crime that hadn’t even existed when the story was published.” It feels very Kafkaesque as we like to say.

maria ressa

Well, some good news first. Two of the nine cases were dropped. So we have — Rappler and I, we have seven remaining cases. It started with 10. So over time, slowly, they’re going away because they’re as ridiculous as the cyber libel case, which I was convicted for along with a former colleague. And here’s the irony, I was convicted for cyber libel, but Rappler was not. So where did I do the cyber libel? But I shouldn’t say that too loudly because they may reopen and say, by the way, we convict Rappler, as well. I mean, that’s how crazy it is. It’s like the queen of cards saying, “Off with her head.” Anyway, so the cyber libel cases, there were three of them filed against me. They’re criminal cases in the Philippines, so I had arrest warrants. One, the most recent cyber libel, the arrest warrant was in January this year.

kara swisher

During Covid.

maria ressa

During Covid, and because an arrest warrant was issued, I had to be out of my house during a lockdown. So I had to leave my house so that I would not be arrested in the middle of the night. These are the kinds of things that you don’t talk about. This is the kind of death by 1,000 cuts that the government can do with these. And you don’t see it, it’s just, oh, another arrest warrant for Maria.

kara swisher

So people then, go to the — well, she’s arrested so many times, she must be guilty, rather than persecuted.

maria ressa

Correct. Right. And that’s exactly the propaganda that’s out.

kara swisher

Do you think this Nobel Prize will help protect you? What’s been the reaction? Obviously, your friends and other journalists are thrilled. But what’s been the reaction in the Philippines?

maria ressa

The people who were silent weren’t silent anymore. That’s one. I think that the biggest message for us is that you are not alone. And that’s not just to me. That is to every journalist in the Philippines, the defenders of press freedom and human rights because for me, I have this threat, but I’m really lucky compared to the others. We’ve had at least 19 journalists killed under the Duterte administration. That’s according to RSF and our National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, they say at least 20. We’ve also had — there’s a journalist who’s been languishing in prison. Her name is Frenchie Mae Cumpio. She was jailed two February’s ago, so she’s still in jail.

kara swisher

What was she in jail for?

maria ressa

Very similar trumped-up charges, again.

kara swisher

So will this protect you? The Nobel Prize? I’m hoping it does, but I’m not sure. Will things get better in the Philippines?

maria ressa

I hope so. Well, one of the things I’ve learned in this time, is that you don’t stay quiet. The only defense a journalist can have is to shine the light. And the Nobel committee just gave us a huge — I joked that Amal has klieg lights, but this is even bigger than klieg lights. I hope that’s what we’ll do. And one of the things I am trying to figure out is, so where do we shine the light? So Venezuela, because they’re even ranking worse than the Philippines in the World Press Freedom Index. India is very close, so I hope that that’s one. But here in the Philippines, there’s so much to do. But I hope — I think it’s good.

kara swisher

Last month the International Criminal Court authorized a probe looking into whether the Duterte regime committed crimes against humanity in its war on drugs. And there’s an election next May. Does that give you hope? Or is this just going to — everyone’s go, this is a great playbook. Let’s use it again and again.

maria ressa

I think it’s hope. But I think it’s an existential moment for democracy in the Philippines. So journalists are a little bit stronger. Part of the reason Rappler can speak the way we do and continue doing the investigative reporting is that we’re not owned by any tycoon with other business interests because that’s the way they attack.

kara swisher

So do you think — what is his impact because he’s not running, correct? Duterte is not running.

maria ressa

We don’t know whether he’s running or not until after the period of substitution —

kara swisher

So it’s like a Trump thing.

maria ressa

— which is November 15. And this is another one of the legal acrobatics that President Duterte has brought from Davao City to the capital. His family has had to hold on Davao since 1988 because they exploit these legal loopholes which is like a shock and awe campaign. It’s like the tactics of power have overshadowed the principles that should govern power, and that’s been that way for a long time.

kara swisher

So you don’t know. You don’t know whether it’s the case?

maria ressa

Oh, yeah, we don’t know. But I will say one thing, again, and this is part of the reason I always bring it back to the platforms. Our elections will be critical. It’s existential. Will we retain rule of law? Will our democracy have a chance to recover from the six years of the Duterte administration? A lot of that will determine on whether we have integrity of elections. And we can’t have integrity of elections if we don’t have integrity of facts. So it goes back to those platforms. And now, we’re going to have to add on top of Facebook, is YouTube. On top of that, YouTube is now number one in the Philippines. And then, TikTok. Right? So the way our minds are being manipulated are expanding.

kara swisher

At least there’s dancing on TikTok. But let me just ask you when you — it sounds like something that’s happening — I don’t know, in the United States of America around election interference, the idea of fraud. Any predictions? Over here, in the US in 2024, we have a presidential election coming up too. Trump is rumored to run. There’s obviously midterm elections, very significant ones. What is your warning for us, here, given what’s happened there?

maria ressa

You’re not out of the woods. Yes, President Biden won, but that was because you had Facebook’s break glass. You had all the social media platforms on alert. But nothing has fundamentally changed. The systems that brought you to January 6 are still there and are getting stronger. And that is worrisome to me. Americans, the psyche, the zeitgeist, is being changed in front of our eyes. Our emergent behavior, and it’s not just you. It’s globally, humanity’s emergent behavior is to the worst of humanity. It is not going to support democracy. And I think that’s why the Nobel committee gave the prize to journalists now. This is an existential moment as right before World War II.

kara swisher

So you said that sometimes you feel like a Cassandra, doomed to make true predictions that fall on deaf ears. What’s your prediction for what the future looks like globally in the war for truth?

maria ressa

I think it’s the same signal that the Nobel committee just sent out, which is that we are on the brink of the rise of fascism. Duterte was elected democratically. Bolsonaro was elected democratically. We’re seeing — I mean, these are all rising. And I think what we don’t want to reach is the tipping point of fascism or the loss of democracy. But I think beyond that — think about it like this. If social media is a behavior modification system, the very platforms that deliver the news to you are biased against news. If you think about it like that, and then, it is changing human behavior. What kind of world are we on the precipice of creating? Without the facts then how do we solve coronavirus? How do we solve climate change? This is it on every front. The systems of governance, the loss of democracy, the rise of fascism, that’s only the beginning. And I think what the Nobel committee — in fact, Berit Reiss-Andersen said it, she said that she believes democracies are necessary for peace. So if you don’t have democracies, and you don’t have peace, and you don’t have a shared reality, which is what the social media algorithmic amplification is doing. It is tearing apart our shared reality. If you don’t have that, how do you solve the existential problems humanity is facing?

kara swisher

Yeah. So let me ask you a final question. Your personal life. How has it affected your family, your loved ones, and yourself?

maria ressa

I haven’t — in so many ways. My parents are getting older. They’ve gotten much weaker. I’ve watched their — I’ve watched them in — they should be in the Philippines. They had just decided to move to the Philippines when Rappler came under attack. They moved everything here. They sold their house in Florida. They came here. And then, I came under attack, and my mother was threatening to go to the airport when an arrest warrant was there. And I had to ask Rappler to please keep my mother home. My sister was her minder because my mom is — when I was with CNN, and I was inside a war zone, my mom would bombard our international desk so much that every time she called me it would kick off the satellite phone, and I would get kicked off air. So CNN actually assigned her a minder when I was in a conflict zone. That’s how my mother is like — she can bust through anything. So when all the arrests happened, I asked my parents to go back to Florida, to go back home to the U.S. And we haven’t seen them since the lockdown began. And they’re alone. So this is — it’s massive impact. So the government has also prevented my travel four times since August last year. And one of the times was when my mom was diagnosed with cancer and had to get an operation. And I wanted to be there for it. And all of the courts had given permission, except one. And that one court, the Court of Appeals waited until 5:00 PM the day before I was supposed to leave at 6:00 AM the next morning — I’m getting upset — to tell me, no. And then you know the impact on my parents.

kara swisher

Oh, Maria, I’m so sorry. What can we do to help you in that regard?

maria ressa

I think you’re doing —

kara swisher

What do you need?

maria ressa

I don’t really know.

It’s a legal battle. I will fight it. And I actually am very lucky to have the legal support I have.

kara swisher

This should not be.

maria ressa

But thank you for asking.

kara swisher

Anything you need, I’m serious. I’ll go to Florida. I hate Florida. I’ll drag my 17 children and my — I will drag my 17 children and my pregnant wife to Florida to help your parents.

maria ressa

No, you don’t want to do that. So we have these weekly Zooms with my parents. But yeah, it’s hard to do all the things on Zoom.

kara swisher

Yeah. Maria, the world does not deserve you, and you deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

maria ressa

Sorry, I didn’t realize. Yeah, I don’t talk about this.

kara swisher

I’m so sorry.

maria ressa

OK, I’m ready. I’m OK.

kara swisher

You do not have to be OK. What’s happened to you is appalling. And if Facebook does not hear this, they need to. Because it’s really — what’s happened to you is a crime.

maria ressa

I think we will win this. I still have faith. I guess that’s the help. And you’ve been so incredibly helpful because I think you also sounded the alarm. I think that’s the other part. I also thought it was interesting that it took Carole Cadwalladr to break Cambridge Analytica. You know, she’s an independent journalist. So I think our whole — the way we see the world, and the way we see technology’s role in it has to change. And I think that’s what Frances Haugen — what the latest whistleblower actually accomplished.

kara swisher

Interesting, lot of women.

maria ressa

Right.

kara swisher

A lot of women, right?

maria ressa

Yeah, and in the Philippines we had our first Olympic gold medal. She’s a woman, and then, this. This is our first Nobel. It still hasn’t sunk in, so I am waiting.

kara swisher

You should wear it around your house. You should wear it all around Manila. You should wear it around your neck, and say, “Hello, what’s this? It’s my Nobel Peace Prize.”

Maria, thank you so much. And I want you to take care of yourself. I worry for you, a lot. But you are also an icon that we all need to look up to.

maria ressa

It’s going to get better. And thank you. Thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING]

– Sway is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Matt Kwong, Daphne Chen, and Caitlin O’Keefe. Edited by Nayeema Raza, with original music by Isaac Jones, engineering by Sonia Herrero, and mixing by Carol Sabouraud, and fact checking by Kate Sinclair. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Kristin Lin, and Mahima Chablani. If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to get your podcasts, so follow this one. If you’re listening on The Times website and want to get each new episode of “Sway” delivered to you, along with a satellite phone to call Maria’s mother, download any podcast app. Then, search for “Sway” and follow the show. We release every Monday and Thursday. Thanks for listening. [MUSIC PLAYING]



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