“What would you be willing to sacrifice for the truth?”

Woman knows ” lionheart (tldr)for American actress Meryl Streep, public enemy number one of the Philippine government; On Thursday, October 20, Maria Ressa was welcomed as a hero in the Pollack Room of McGill University’s Schulich Hall. The investigative journalist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for his tireless work to expose the abuse of power by Rodrigo Duterte’s government and the rise of authoritarianism in the Philippines, had been invited by the university within the framework of the 68th.e annual edition of the Beatty Conference.

It was with a good deal of self-deprecation that the journalist won over her audience, without letting them lose sight of the seriousness of her remarks. Co-founder of the Independent Philippine Newspaper call back, she is currently fighting in the Supreme Court of the Philippines for her freedom. A Philippine court convicted her of “cyber-defamation” in 2020 for an article she did not write that had appeared eight years earlier, even before the creation of the law under which she is being prosecuted. . ” This legal system […] taught me the meaning of the word kafkaesque (tdlr)“, she says with a touch of humor. When journalist Nahla Saed asked her why she should return to the Philippines when she risks being imprisoned there, Maria Ressa shakes her head: ” This moment matters. This is the time when we can be a force for good she replies.

This legal system […] taught me the meaning of the word kafkasque »

Maria Ressa

Do it well »: this is the mission the journalist has given himself for more than 35 years now. Born in the Philippines, she completed studies at Princeton University in the United States before returning to her home country as a graduate student and recipient of a Fulbright scholarship. She worked there for the CNN network as a foreign correspondent, covering terrorist networks in Southeast Asia before founding call back in 2012. Since 2012, the journalist has been interested in the use of social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter, to spread misinformation and manipulate public discourse.

“World War III has begun”

Maria Ressa herself admits to having been an ardent defender of social networks in their early hours: ” I believed that social networks could allow us to build institutions from scratch “, she recalls. And yet, since the first indications that Facebook was being used as a platform to manipulate the American electorate in 2016, her optimism has given way to a deep distrust of what she calls ” instrumentalization Politics ” social networks. Since 2016, call back investigated how the Philippine government uses social media to spread false information. On these virtual platforms, faster than hate, lies spread with the speed of lightning. The journalist tells how, during the last presidential election in the Philippines, she walked through Manila’s poor neighborhoods to ask the residents about their reasons for supporting Ferdinand Marcos Junior, the son of a former dictator in the country who had stolen 10 billion dollars from the country’s coffers. ” He will give us gold he was told. Where had they heard such a thing? ” Youtube “.

If people lose faith, then it’s game over »

Maria Ressa

The journalist also condemns the virtual campaigns ” dehumanizing carried out against opponents of totalitarian regimes, a reality she knows particularly well, having personally fallen victim to it. Pictures of her exaggerating her eczema earned her the nickname ” face of the wallet on social media. ” She is not the victim “, we can read on one of these pictures. In another way, it is compared to a prehistoric man. For Maria Ressa, these attacks are an attempt to silence opponents of regimes by targeting their vulnerability, a technique she points out was used against Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia before she was murdered in 2017.” It is not a matter of free speech. “, she emphasizes. ” It is ‘freedom of speech’ that is used to stifle free speech “.

Maria Ressa insists that this instrumentalization of social networks represents a serious threat to democracy. She points out in passing that more people today live under an authoritarian regime than under a democracy. It is about a ” third world war “that” each of us leads «, she argues. This veritable war on truth being waged in the virtual sphere has very real implications for today’s political climate. Fake news after fake news, people’s trust in institutions is undermined: This is what happened in the Philippines, says Maria Ressa. ” If people lose faith, then it’s game over she says in a serious tone.

It is ‘freedom of speech’ that is used to stifle free speech »

Maria Ressa

Glimpses of hope on the horizon

However, everything is not gloomy, Maria Ressa reassures us. It is not only possible, but imperative, to combat these threats to democracy. ” You have to fight. You must pay attention “, she conjures us. The journalist appeals to the humanity of his audience in this struggle, a real challenge when our digital platforms are configured to make money through the circulation of inhuman messages. ” Social media is a behavior change system «, she argues. ” The best of human nature is taken from it However, she points out that research has shown that more than hate and lies, it is inspiration that has the potential to spread the fastest through the virtual sphere.

As Maria Ressa greeted her audience one last time to thunderous applause, one question remained unanswered, the one posed by the journalist during her Nobel Conference in October 2021: ” What would you be willing to sacrifice for the truth?If Maria Ressa seems to have found her answer to this question, it seems it’s our turn to ask.

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