Maria Ressa, CEO of Rattlers in the Philippines and one of the leading investigative journalists, was hosted by Columbia Journalism School as the honorary speaker at its 2019 graduation ceremony. An awardee of the age-old Columbia Journalism Award established back in 1958, Ressa’s “courage” and “persistence” in questioning the Philippines regime were rewarded by the faculty of Columbia.
As she gave a keynote address to an auditorium full of fellow journalists, the room brightened up with her enthusiastic and positive undertone, considering the several investigations and cases filed against Ressa. “The battle of truth is at the heart of protecting our democracy,” she said, adding that “we are the guardians of truth.”
Ressa brings into light the ongoing war between facts and propaganda. “Technology has enabled mass manipulation,” she said. She perceives the sentence of our time as “a lie told a million times becomes the truth,” and that “technology is leading American social media platforms towards online attacks against journalists and activists.”
“Patriotic trolling”, according to Ressa, is “online state-sponsored hate targeting those who question power”. These online attacks, penetrating the traditional media, are “personal”, “psychological”, and are “meant to silence you,” she said.
The social media platform has a difficult systematic way, which directly leads to “imploding democracies around the world.” Ressa believes the platform to be the largest distributor of lies, which is latched onto existing anger and hate in society, bringing out the worst of human nature. Amongst the brim of disinformation, “the voice with the loudest megaphone – Duterte, Trump, Putin – wins,” she stated.
Cementing the fact about how “American social media technology has taken away the gatekeeping powers of journalists,” Ressa asked the graduating class to thrive for leadership; to become leaders who have “courage” – “the courage to go in when others are leaving”, “the inner-courage” and “the courage of your conviction.”