“Facebook is biased against facts and journalism”: Maria Ressa, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Maria Ressa, the journalist who shared the Nobel Peace Prize this year with Russian journalist Dmitry Murtov, criticized Facebook for an algorithm that “actually promotes lies mixed with anger and hate that spread faster than the facts. “.
Ressa, a former CNN journalist and CEO of Rappler, an independent media outlet in the Philippines, received the Nobel Peace Prize for his “efforts to protect freedom of expression, which is a prerequisite for democracy and lasting peace.”
Talk to Al Jazeera after receiving the Nobel Prize, Ressa lamented that the loss of news outlets’ “powers of control” over social media platforms had made the facts questionable. âBecause facts and lies are treated equally. When the facts are debatable, then you don’t have the facts, you don’t have the truth, and you cannot be trusted. Without all of these things, you don’t have a shared reality, you can’t have democracy, and certainly no meaningful human commitment to deal with the existential issues we face – the climate, the coronavirus. “
This comes in the wake of Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager who became a whistleblower and sharing information with the the Wall Street newspaper that the social media giant “optimizes content that generates engagement”, turning a blind eye to the hate speech provoked by its platforms.
Instead of containing offensive posts, Haugen said, Facebook has made a profit on content that angers people because it increases their time on site. Such content ranges from ethnic violence against minority groups, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar, to the appearance of adolescent body complexes on Instagram. Haugen then appeared before the US Congress and put forward the need to regulate Facebook and its family of apps.
Reflecting similar sentiments to Haugen’s, Ressa said in a 2019 Q&A, â[Facebook] pitched news into the same algorithms that were designed to appeal to the worst of human nature, the sort of thing we sometimes even hide from ourselves. These algorithms were designed to keep you there for as long as possible.
Ressa founded Rapper, in 2012, and gained ground on Facebook. However, Rapper was also the target of organized attacks on the social media platform during the Philippine presidential elections of 2016. In the 2019 Q&A posted by CIGI, Ressa had described how under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte the social media campaigns and accounts “that were used to help Duterte win the presidency were then militarized and used as a place where disinformation went viral. “. Ordinary people, journalists, news groups and opposition politicians have all been attacked, she noted.
Ressa added that she gathered a list of fake Facebook accounts and approached the social media giant to take action. However, although the people she met at the company were shocked, they “didn’t know what to do.”
Recently, in a lengthy Facebook post, Zuckerberg passed the buck on lawmakers and said it was their responsibility to update social media regulations.
Ressa, however, had said in 2019 that she believed that “the only people who can fix this problem for us are social media technology platforms.”
Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize comes at a time when journalists around the world who do not conform to the ideology of power ruling in their respective countries are routinely persecuted and declared anti-national.
At least 30 journalists were killed around the world in 2020, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, with the highest number of retaliatory killings reported in countries like Mexico, Afghanistan and the Philippines.