The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is a big victory for free expression. In an era when attacks on the press have been increasing, Ressa and Muratov are a reminder of the critical role the Fourth Estate plays in upholding democracy. But Ressa’s win has another dimension as well: It also is an indictment of the failings of Facebook.
Ressa, a former CNN journalist, is co-founder of Rappler, the Philippines’ most prominent independent news outlet. Rappler began its life in 2011 as a Facebook page before transitioning to a full-fledged news website. Like several other countries in its region, the Philippines relies heavily on Facebook for access to the online world. Filipinos have been known to say that Facebook is virtually equivalent to the Internet for them.
The first time I heard Ressa speak, she told how she had once tried to explain to Mark Zuckerberg that the company’s dominance in her country brought with it a huge social responsibility. Ressa told Zuckerberg that 97 percent of Filipinos used Facebook, and she invited him to the Philippines to get a better understanding of the problems that result. Zuckerberg seemed to ignore the invitation, concentrating instead on how Facebook could increase its domination in the country. “What are the other 3 percent doing, Maria?” he allegedly asked.
Since the rise of President Rodrigo Duterte, Ressa has given eloquent voice to a widespread unease over Facebook’s role. She has criticized not only its active role in the spread of disinformation but also its apparent lack of concern for the broader implications of its activities in the non-Western markets where the majority of its users live. (Facebook has endured widespread criticism for failing to enforce its own policies against hate speech in India and its lack of attention to violent content that abetted genocide in Myanmar.) [Continue reading…]