October 1, 2020 - Media veterans Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and ABS-CBN journalist Karen Davila recently joined an online forum condemning the curtailment of press freedom in the Philippines and the world.

The forum “Media Persecution in the Philippines: Democracy at a Crossroads” was hosted by Akbayan North America and moderated by Inquirer’s US bureau chief Rene Ciria-Cruz. It tackled current issues facing the press globally.

Ressa was convicted of cyber libel while Davila’s network ABS-CBN was denied its franchise in 2020.

Ressa described the power of social media in polarizing its users, calling every social media platform “a behaviour modification system” whose goal is to change the way one thinks. “Artificial intelligence knows you better than yourself,” declared Ressa.

Ressa explained that algorithms will “take your weakest, most vulnerable moment…and sell that to the highest bidder whether a country or company.” According to her, this micro-targeting is more effective than traditional marketing or advertising in changing one’s behaviours.  “A lie told a million times spreads faster than facts.”

Davila decried accusations by the Philippine government that the revocation of ABS-CBN network’s franchise is not about press freedom. “You are called anti-government when you take officials to account but journalists are neither transcribers, typists nor stenographers.”Davila continued, “The absence of journalism, good, legitimate, hard-hitting, investigative, once gone in a society will allow more leaders to commit abuse, corruption.”

Davila lamented how social media users fall prey to “clickbait”, form opinions based on headlines without reading the article and lose “integrity to think for themselves.”

Ressa agreed, “We have a government that is very good at shaping the narrative with the help of social media.” She added, “The end goal (of behaviour modification) is not just to make you believe one thing, but to make you doubt everything, because if you doubt everything, civil society cannot act.”

Ressa further described how the tech companies in Silicon Valley are not held accountable for the impacts that social media has created in today’s world. “We in the global south, we in the Philippines, did not have a voice in how the Silicon Valley created how facts are distributed, and yet we bear the brunt of it.” She noted that all internet users in the Philippines use Facebook, adding that “Facebook is our internet.”

Both Davila and Ressa agree that press freedom is a global issue, with Ressa urging Filipino in both the US and Canada to register to vote in the Philippine election in 2022. Voter registration is ongoing until September 2021. For Filipinos in Canada, contact the Philippine Embassy in Ottawa or the Philippine Consulate General offices in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. For more information, go to https://comelec.gov.ph/?r=OverseasVoting.


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