Democracy & Disinformation

‘We must act now’: Ressa, Muratov launch action plan vs Big Tech information crisis

Michelle Abad
‘We must act now’: Ressa, Muratov launch action plan vs Big Tech information crisis

CALL TO ACTION. Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa attends the Nobel Peace Center's celebration of freedom of the press and expression in Oslo, Norway September 2, 2022.

NTB/Ole Berg-Rusten via REUTERS

'Together we can end this corporate and technological assault on our lives and liberties, but we must act now,' say Nobel laureates Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov

MANILA, Philippines – Nobel Peace Prize laureates Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov have unveiled a plan to fight the information crisis and surveillance-for-profit business model by giant tech companies, and to “rebuild independent journalism.”

They presented this at the Freedom of Expression Conference in Oslo, Norway, on Friday, September 2.

In a tweet, Ressa said that the business models of Big Tech, which “deliberately promote hate and lies for profit,” are an “existential threat to democracy and peace.”

“Right now, the huge potential of technology to advance our societies has been undermined by the business model and design of the dominant online platforms,” Ressa and Muratov said in their presentation.

“But we remind all those in power that true human progress comes from harnessing technology to advance rights and freedoms for all, not sacrificing them for the wealth and power of a few,” they added.

“Radical action is needed to detoxify the dominant online platforms and reclaim a democratic vision of the internet for the 21st century,” Ressa said in a tweet.

She called to end tech platforms’ amplifying of disinformation, and to invest in journalism to fight tyranny.

Rappler CEO Ressa and Muratov, editor-in-chief of Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta Muratov, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”

‘We must act now’: Ressa, Muratov launch action plan vs Big Tech information crisis
End ‘surveillance-for-profit business model’

The Nobel laureates noted that the current information ecosystem are driven by “opaque algorithms and recommender systems built by tech companies that track and target us.”

“This surveillance-for-profit business model is built on the con of our supposed consent. But forcing us to choose between allowing platforms and data brokers to feast on our personal data or being shut out from the benefits of the modern world is simply no choice at all,” they said.

“The vast machinery of corporate surveillance not only abuses our right to privacy, but allows our data to be used against us, undermining our freedoms and enabling discrimination,” they added.

Ressa and Muratov said Europe has started addressing the problem through the Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts, but “these must be enforced in ways that compel platforms to de-risk their design, detox their algorithms and give users real control.”

“Privacy and data rights, to date largely notional, must also be properly enforced. And advertisers must use their money and influence to protect their customers against a tech industry that is actively harming people,” they said.

‘We must act now’: Ressa, Muratov launch action plan vs Big Tech information crisis
‘End tech discrimination’

Ressa and Muratov said that global tech companies have failed to prioritize and give equal protection to their consumers.

“Companies must be legally required to rigorously assess human rights risks in every country they seek to expand in, ensuring proportionate language and cultural competency. They must also be forced to bring their closed-door decisions on content moderation and algorithm changes into the light and end all special exemptions for those with the most power and reach,” they said.

“These safety, design, and product choices that affect billions of people cannot be left to corporations to decide. Transparency and accountability rules are an essential first step to reclaiming the internet for the public good,” they added.

‘Rebuild independent journalism as the antidote to tyranny’

Ressa and Muratov also cited the “forces” unleashed by big tech platforms “that are devastating independent media by swallowing up online advertising while simultaneously enabling a tech-fueled tsunami of lies and hate that drown out facts.”

They said that ending tech platforms’ amplification of disinformation would not be enough to help rebuild independent journalism, citing the fact that “just 13% of the world’s population can currently access a free press.”

“If we are to hold power to account and protect journalists, we need unparalleled investment in a truly independent media persevering in situ or working in exile that ensures its sustainability while incentivizing compliance with ethical norms in journalism,” they said.

They added: “21st century newsrooms must also forge a new, distinct path, recognizing that to advance justice and rights, they must represent the diversity of the communities they serve. Governments must ensure the safety and independence of journalists who are increasingly being attacked, imprisoned, or killed on the frontlines of this war on facts.”

Call to action

Ressa and Muratov presented a 10-point plan action to “build a world that puts human rights, dignity, and security first.”

Nine other Nobel laureates and over 90 experts and civil society groups endorsed the action plan.

“We, as Nobel Laureates, from across the world, send a united message: together we can end this corporate and technological assault on our lives and liberties, but we must act now. It is time to implement the solutions we already have to rebuild journalism and reclaim the technological architecture of global conversation for all humanity,” Ressa and Muratov said.

On August 31, former and current lawmakers of Southeast Asian countries called on governments, civil society, and the public sector to regard disinformation as a top regional and international concern.

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) conducted a fact-finding mission in the Philippines following the country’s national elections in May 2022. The mission aimed to show that disinformation not only endangers elections, but democracies and national security as a whole.

Stemming from former president Rodrigo Duterte’s “institutionalization” of disinformation via social media, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of late ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, won the presidential race in May with a majority vote. Disinformation on social media was found to be a key factor in influencing the polls’ outcome, as pro-Marcos propaganda thrived years before the Marcoses achieved their 2022 Malacañang comeback.

After disinfo’s impact on elections, truth tellers need to collaborate more

After disinfo’s impact on elections, truth tellers need to collaborate more

– Rappler.com

FULL TEXT: Maria Ressa, Dmitry Muratov’s 10-point plan to address the information crisis

FULL TEXT: Maria Ressa, Dmitry Muratov’s 10-point plan to address the information crisis

2 comments

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  1. JD

    Ironically, this 10-point plan was originally posted on one such Big Tech platform, underscoring just how powerful and necessary they are. Such change will never actually take place, I fear, unless alternative social media platforms which already follow the principles of points 1 to 9 of the plan are publicly supported enough to compete effectively against such existing Big Tech platforms.

    1. RS

      I know right, the irony?!?! Understand where the fear is coming from. As for me, I don’t expect much coming from the platforms and I guess that’s the reason why these calls were not directed to them? But I hope countries and institutions such as the EU and UN take these calls to action seriously – and with urgency! Am I being optimistic here 😅

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer with the investigative unit of Rappler. She also covers overseas Filipinos and the rights of women and children.