Fighting disinformation

With rise of AI, Maria Ressa warns of loss of information integrity

Gaby Baizas

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With rise of AI, Maria Ressa warns of loss of information integrity

MARIA RESSA. The Rappler CEO speaks at a Rappler Plus event, June 7, 2024

Screenshot from Rappler video

Rappler CEO and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa says AI could accelerate propaganda and disinformation, and may even lead to the ‘enshittification’ of the internet

MANILA, Philippines – At a Rappler+ exclusive event, Rappler CEO and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa warned that the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) could further distort today’s already compromised information landscape.

On Friday, June 7, Ressa discussed the impacts of AI on the information ecosystem at the exclusive event entitled AI Disruptions and Surviving Crisis, the first briefing of the Rappler+ x Nerve Changemakers Series.

Ressa identified two major instances when AI “touched humanity”: when social media and machine learning began microtargeting with user data, and when generative AI became popular starting November 2022, with bots such as ChatGPT.

“For both social media and generative AI, you can now make a lot of fun stuff, but generative AI is not anchored on facts. Social media is not anchored on facts. So what we are giving up with the two instances of AI is information integrity,” she said.

The Rappler CEO cited the social media influence of former president Rodrigo Duterte as well as the Marcos family, political figures who have greatly benefited from online propaganda and disinformation. Social media networks supporting Duterte and incumbent President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. have also been taken down in the past for using fake accounts.

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“It was always asymmetrical warfare. The lies outnumbered the facts – this is happening globally now…. It’s exponential content creation of propaganda, and guess what? With generative AI, it’s going to get even faster and cheaper,” she said.

A 2022 Rappler study found that in the Philippine online space, news organizations are drowned out by other information sources. These sources may include hyperpartisan news outlets and even entertainment channels that disguise hate and propaganda as legitimate reports.

Government sources were also boosted online, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and some Filipinos automatically believed information so long as it came from official sources. But this mindset is dangerous for social media users in the Philippines, where platforms are prone to state-sponsored disinformation.

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‘Enshittification’ of the internet

Ressa also mentioned the rise of generative AI may contribute to the “enshittification” of the internet. The term “enshittification,” coined by Canadian-British writer Cory Doctorow, refers to the way digital platforms decay and degrade, often in the context of tech companies prioritizing business interests.

“Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die,” Doctorow wrote in a blog post from January 2023.

Because generative AI may boost the creation of online propaganda and disinformation, Ressa raised concerns that the internet will inevitably become “enshittified” and virtually impossible to use.

“With generative AI pumping out industrial-grade propaganda or content, the word ‘enshittification’ has been coined…. I’m making the bet that the internet will have such low-quality content and will be so full of trash that many people will opt out. And where do we go?” she said.

This poses a problem for the Philippines, where nearly 4 out of 5 users aged 16 to 64 use the internet to find information. Over 2 in 5 social media users in the country also use different platforms to read news stories.

Beyond the possible increase of propaganda produced by generative AI, Ressa also said Facebook’s move to choke traffic from news sites and Google’s launch of its Search Generative Experience will make it more difficult for users to access reliable information.

Rappler’s solution to the possible “enshittification” of the internet, Ressa said, is Rappler Communities, where users can access the news and interact with like-minded people on a platform free of coded bias and algorithms that promote inflammatory content.

“I’m making the bet that the enshittification of the internet is going to force you to find a safe place, and we’re rolling it out early enough for our own elections,” she added.

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In a column published in May, Ressa acknowledged that while generative AI can “explore a wealth of possibilities that journalism hasn’t touched,” combining man and machine will lead to “fact-based, evidence-based information,” and will “[restore] nuance, critical thinking, and trust back into the public sphere.”

‘Insidious’ social media manipulation and the geopolitical landscape

Ressa also warned of the global rise of fascism, brought about by major geopolitical events. “2024 is the year democracy dies or survives…. It’s a geopolitical turn – and I don’t use the word lightly – to fascism,” she said.

In June of this year, the European Parliamentary election saw the far-right gain ground, and the upcoming US presidential election has triggered debates on American fascism.

The rise of social media also paved the way for information operations, including possible foreign influence campaigns. In the Philippines, pro-China and pro-Russia propaganda often claim supposed academic expertise to gain legitimacy. Earlier this month, an investigation by The New York Times found that Israel organized an influence campaign targeting US lawmakers and the American public with pro-Israel messaging, in a bid to drum up support for its military aggression in Gaza.

Ressa also said the “insidious manipulation” of social media leads to tribalism, or the extreme polarization of online communities brought about by echo chambers and algorithms. 

She added that geopolitical events like elections make online harassment “even more overheated,” and explained that she was attacked online after she was named the principal speaker of Harvard University’s 2024 commencement ceremony. It was in her commencement speech where she talked about how the “outrage economy” had “transformed our world, rewarding the worst of humanity,” and that “the corruption of our information ecosystem is about to get worse” because of unregulated tech.

“The war isn’t just happening in Gaza, in Sudan, or in Ukraine. It isn’t just out there. It’s in your pocket. Each of us is fighting our own battles for facts, for integrity. Because the dictator-to-be can zoom in and target each of us,” Ressa said at Harvard. –

1 comment

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  1. ET

    I appreciate Maria Ressa for pointing out how the “outrage economy” has transformed our world, rewarding the worst of humanity. This sad and dangerous fact needs our attention, and we can defend ourselves against it. Leaders like Maria Ressa have shown the way, but there is still a long way to go.

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Gaby Baizas

Gaby Baizas is a digital forensics researcher at Rappler. She first joined Rappler straight out of college as a digital communications specialist. She hopes people learn to read past headlines the same way she hopes punk never dies.