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Maria Ressa of the Philippines: "Our dystopian present is your dystopian future"

Elaine Quijano interviews Maria Ressa
CBSN's Elaine Quijano interviews journalist Maria Ressa 22:43

Maria Ressa, a filipino journalist repeatedly threatened by president Rodrigo Duterte, has a warning for the United States: "Our dystopian present, is your dystopian future."

Ressa is the head of Rappler, an online news outlet based in the Philippines that is a frequent target of the government. Ressa herself has been arrested on charges of libel and tax evasion, all of which she says are false. If convicted, she could face up to 63 years in prison. Ressa, however, has focused her message on a threat facing the world: disinformation. 

"The traditional role of journalism is gone," Ressa told Elaine Quijano, anchor of CBSN's evening politics program "Red & Blue,"  at the Reykjavík Global Forum - Women Leaders conference in Iceland on Wednesday. "The largest distributor of news now is technology, it's social media platforms, and they have dropped the gatekeeping role we used to have …  Today, lies laced with anger and hate spread faster than facts."

According to Ressa, Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who exposed the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, described the Philippines to her as the "petri dish" for disinformation tactics that are now being used in Western countries, including the United States. 

"The only difference is that institutions in the United States are stronger than in the Philippines," Ressa said in the CBSN Originals documentary, Fake News, Real Consequences: The Woman Fighting Disinformation.

In the U.S., three years after the Russian government used Facebook and Twitter to interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign, experts are trying to anticipate what's next.

"These tactics of mass manipulation are insidious, they are meant to undermine our democracies, they are meant to undermine your will," Ressa told Quijano. "I've never seen this before in all the time we've been reporters."

Ressa was among a group of journalists recognized by Time as Person of the Year in 2018 and has worked as a journalist in the Philippines for 30 years. Her reporting on Duterte and his government has made her a target.

After Rappler published a report critical of Duterte, Ressa was flooded with threats of death, prison and rape. Many of these threats were spread online by what she says are paid internet trolls. "I've been called every single animal you can think of ... sexual attacks, rape, murder, behead. At one point I was getting 90 hate messages per hour," she told Bill Whitaker of "60 Minutes."

"After the atom bomb exploded, the world came together to try to protect humanity from the worst of what humanity can do… Now, the same thing has happened, an atom bomb has exploded but no one knows it happened. Except if you're under attack," Ressa told Quijano.

"What are we going to do? The first is, what are the values and principles that govern tech? What do civil society — what do governments — need to do to protect our rights?" Ressa said. "Please ask yourself: What are you willing to sacrifice for the truth? … The world as we know it has been destroyed, we now have to actively create what the new world will look like."

Journalist and CEO of Rappler fights weaponization of social media in Philippines 06:22
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