Hold the Line - Maria Ressa’s Nobel Price Speech

11. Dezember 2021

Ever wan­ted to see a Nobel Peace Pri­ce speech, whe­re the audi­ence reacts sho­cked, to the point whe­re their mouths remain open phy­si­cal­ly - and then still has to clap, becau­se, you know… pro­to­col? Maria Res­sa delivers.

What hap­pen­ed? Oh, peop­le in the west that visit Nobel pie­ce pri­ce lau­da­tio­nes just got con­fron­ted with a jour­na­list from a coun­try whe­re face­book chan­ged the poli­ti­cal and jour­na­listic land­s­cape. In lar­ge parts, becau­se of a per­so­nal impu­ni­ty deal bet­ween Face­book and the pre­si­dent of the Phil­ip­pi­nes. Res­sa spo­ke about a socie­ty in which fake news could be used as poli­ti­cal tools, without restric­tions. Here are some quotes:

Res­sa stres­sed most of all how jour­na­lists have lost their role as the pro­fes­sio­nal “gate­kee­pers” who worked to make sure the flow of public infor­ma­ti­on was fac­tu­al, edi­ted and in kee­ping with jour­na­listic princi­ples befo­re being publis­hed. Now tech­no­lo­gy and espe­cial­ly social media can allow an unedi­ted flow of infor­ma­ti­on, with Res­sa slamming their “god-like power that has allo­wed a virus of lies to infect each of us, pit­ting us against each other, brin­ging out our fears, anger and hate, and set­ting the sta­ge for the rise of aut­ho­ri­ta­ri­ans and dic­ta­tors around the world.”

She spe­ci­fi­cal­ly men­tio­ned Bra­zil, Hun­ga­ry, Fran­ce, the US and her own Phil­ip­pi­nes, whe­re elec­tions next year can be hea­vi­ly influ­en­ced by social media. She noted how “Ame­ri­can inter­net com­pa­nies” can “make more money by sprea­ding hate and trig­ge­ring the worst in us.”

Attacks on her own news­si­te Rapp­ler [source of the video] “began five years ago,” she said, “when we deman­ded an end to impu­ni­ty on two fronts: Duterte’s drug war and Mark Zuckerberg’s Face­book. Today it has only got­ten worse, and Sili­con Valley’s sins came home to roost in the United Sta­tes on Janu­a­ry 6 with mob vio­lence on Capi­tol Hill.” She main­tains that online vio­lence has beco­me real world violence.

She cal­led social media, mean­while, “a dead­ly game for power and money” in which “high­ly pro­fi­ta­ble micro-targeting ope­ra­ti­ons are engi­nee­red to struc­tu­ral­ly under­mi­ne human will.” It has also rui­ned the busi­ness model for estab­lis­hed media, Res­sa belie­ves, as “dest­ruc­ti­ve cor­po­ra­ti­ons have sipho­ned money away from news groups and now pose a thre­at to mar­kets and elec­tions.” Face­book is now the world’s lar­gest dis­tri­bu­tor of news, yet “lies laced with anger and hate spread fas­ter and fur­ther than facts on social media.” Journalist-gatekeepers have been repla­ced by the­se “Ame­ri­can com­pa­nies con­trol­ling our glo­bal infor­ma­ti­on eco­sys­tem, bia­sed against facts, bia­sed against jour­na­lists. They are, by design, divi­ding us and radi­ca­li­zing us.”

Res­sa hopes the world can act as it did after the ato­mic bomb attacks on Japan that ended World War II: “We need to crea­te new insti­tu­ti­ons, like the United Nati­ons, and new codes sta­ting our values to pre­vent huma­ni­ty from doing its worst.” She cal­led for “shif­ting social prio­ri­tes to rebuild jour­na­lism” while “regu­la­ting and out­lawing” the big tech firms and “sur­veil­lan­ce eco­no­mics that pro­fit from hate and lies.”

She was refer­ring to how com­pa­nies like Face­book and Goog­le gather data on human beha­viour and sell it to the hig­hest bid­der. It can then be used as a wea­pons, like meddling in elections.

src: click

So what will be hap­pe­ning now? Well, jud­ging from the cir­cum­s­tance that Fran­ces Hau­gens mes­sa­ge in Ger­ma­ny was lar­ge­ly moved to an online only clip in the come­dy for­mat ZDF maga­zi­ne roya­le, I’d say a who­le lot of pos­tu­ring, fol­lo­wed up by a who­le lot of not­hing, like the Forum Alp­bach approach of staf­fing call­cen­ters with trai­ned ‘broa­den online speech spe­cia­lists, finan­ced by the pri­va­te sec­tor’, and ‘easy coun­ter’ meme crea­ti­on later out­sour­ced to fiverr. ([Inter­pre­ta­ti­on] Fiverr was pro­mo­ted in this Alp­bach 2018 ses­si­on (Our work in our future), as a ‘gre­at and cost-effective tool’ even for the sci­en­ti­fic sector.)

Full dis­clo­sure: Why am I actual­ly that inves­ted? Well I stron­gly sug­gested, that micro tar­ge­ting in poli­ti­cal adver­ti­sing on face­book had to stop - with the euro­pean com­mis­si­on having to be enga­ged in making this a rea­li­ty, in an Alp­bach semi­nar in 2018. Which today - final­ly is a posi­ti­on held by sta­ke­hol­ders at the euro­pean level.

In Alp­bach, I was met with this fami­li­ar blank sta­re that always warms your heart to the point it stings a litt­le, only to then be fol­lo­wed up with the high inten­si­ty ques­ti­on ‘But how is social media micro­tar­ge­ting dif­fe­rent from what the euro­pean pos­tal sys­tem is doing in dis­tri­bu­ting adver­ti­sing’? On which the pro­fes­sor hol­ding the ses­si­on prompt­ly stop­ped the per­son asking it from from try­ing to get ans­wers out of me - becau­se ‘look at the time..’. 

Small unim­portant anec­do­te, I would have for­got­ten by now - were it not for the ‘intro­duc­tion into poli­te socie­ty’ event a few days later, cal­led ‘The future of data eco­no­my’, whe­re Tre­vor D. Trai­na, the new US ambassa­dor to aus­tria at that time, promp­ted by two ques­ti­ons in a row ‘If it would­n’t be over­due to regu­la­te big tech com­pa­nies’ (the second one asked by yours true­ly, to dri­ve the point home, that this was important) respon­ded with “I’ve got this. [Ques­ti­on asked for the ent­i­re panel to ans­wer.] You see, this is why we’­ve got the free mar­ket - this is like with Fire­fox, whe­re a com­pe­ti­tor could come along tomor­row, inno­va­te, and then chan­ge the land­s­cape ent­i­re­ly - so no regu­la­ti­on is needed.” 

The other peop­le on the panel (see click), inclu­ding some very dis­tin­guis­hed guests and young experts in the field were very hel­pful, by liter­al­ly attemp­t­ing to sta­re holes in the cei­ling of Elisabeth-Herz-Kremenak-Saal at that point of the evening. 

Two days ago, I then could­n’t help to noti­ce that the way out of this that Forum Alp­bach and the Mer­ca­tor foun­da­ti­on (as well as pro­bab­ly Mr. Trai­na hims­elf) could agree on, would be to fund a few call­cen­ters worth of micro­job­bers that would then be paid to “broa­den online dis­cus­sions, using sci­ence”, and “dis­tri­bu­te pre­pro­du­ced ‘easy coun­ter’ memes in image form” for the gene­ral public enga­ged in demo­cra­tic deba­te online.

My respect for poli­ti­cal and intel­lec­tu­al eli­tes grew three sizes that day.

Sor­ry for the fil­ler, back to the topic at hand:

The­se were strong spee­ches that gave ever­yo­ne a lot to think about,” Stø­re told Nor­we­gi­an Broad­cas­ting (NRK) on his way out of the pri­ze cere­mo­ny. “It also makes an impres­si­on that the­se two tra­vel home with gre­at uncer­tain­ty over what will meet them there.”

Gre­at uncer­tain­ty inde­ed, but not so much over what will meet them there.

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