Opinion | The weaponization of social media threatens democracies around the world

Opinion | The weaponization of social media threatens democracies around the world


-The drug war in the Philippines
began in July 2016, and at that point in time, there was an average
of eight dead bodies a night. You knew there was
something bad going on. My name is Maria Ressa. I’ve been a journalist
for more than 30 years, 20 of those years with CNN
in Southeast Asia. I ran the Manila bureau,
the Jakarta bureau. And in 2012, began Rappler,
this little start-up that’s, like, now the target. It earned the ire
of President Duterte. Not coincidentally, that was
when social media, Facebook was weaponized. The first people who were
attacked were journalists, anyone who questioned
the drug war. I watched democracy crumble
in about six months in the Philippines. Our dystopian present
is your dystopian future. -“Time” magazine has announced, this morning, its choice
for 2018 Person of the Year, and it is the guardians,
which highlights specific examples
of courage in journalism, including Philippine journalist
Maria Ressa. -Maria Ressa, a high-profile
journalist in the Philippines, whose trial started today
in a criminal libel case. Ressa and press-freedom advocates say the government’s
charges against her are retaliation for her critical
reporting of authorities in the Philippines. -After the message was seeded,
bottom up — And the message here is,
“Rappler is foreign-influenced or is trying to take down
Duterte” — all not true. Then the same message
is repeated by power, the voice
with the loudest megaphone. In our case, President Duterte. His words unleashed the state. In a little more than a year,
the government filed 11 cases and investigations against me
and against Rappler. Weaponization of social media, followed by the weaponization
of the law. Democracies around the world
are being pushed back because of technology, because
of what social media is doing. This is a problem. The trend is clear. And this data now that allows
the micro-targeting of people in a predictive manner now has created a way
for geopolitical powers to walk into something
that was used for advertising and turn it to change
the power structures, globally. -Tonight, we are hearing
from Cambridge Analytica whistleblower
Christopher Wylie. In the interview you’re about
watch, he tells me about his work
at the company with close ties
to the Trump campaign, a company now accused
of using the private data of tens of millions
of Facebook users to directly target
potential American voters. -Cambridge Analytica.
The whistleblower, Christopher Wylie,
actually told me — He said that the Philippines
was the “Petri dish.” This is where they tested
tactics of mass manipulation. If it worked, they —
this is his word — “ported” that tactic to the
United States, to the West. -So, you describe
what you built as — It’s called
psychological warfare, a psychological-warfare weapon, something you say
Steve Bannon wanted, the ability to play with the
psychology of an entire country. -The companies that are able
to act right now and fix many of these problems are
the same social-media platforms that promised empowerment
to all. Go back to that vision. Restore faith and credibility. But what needs to happen
is really simple. Right now, each of the
social-media platforms have taken down
disinformation networks, but that data
is floating in space. It should be put in
a centralized database where proven disinformation
networks — So it’s like having
a terrorist database. These disinformation networks — We can then,
in each of our countries, find our links to those and then
take them down, as well, so that either governments
or companies are not allowed to get away with information operations
with impunity. And there needs to be a global
Interpol that actually sets aside —
monitors and punishes those who try to
manipulate people with impunity. What we do at this moment
in time matters. It will determine the kind
of world we will live in. It is an existential moment
for journalism, an existential moment
for democracy. The evidence is in front of us. It is time to act.

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