online education

Two minutes to avoid wasting democracy

If you care about democracy, you have two minutes to deal with it.

That’s the chilling warning that courageous investigative journalist Maria Ressa, Nobel Peace Prize winner, often repeats, using a metaphor inspired by her time as a basketball player.

“When you play basketball, the last two minutes is everything. And we lose the game. Unless there is a drastic change, 2024 will be the year democracy falls off the cliff,” she said in an interview with the Guardianon the occasion of the forthcoming publication of his memoirs How to stand against a dictator (How to stand against a dictator).

Maria Ressa knows exactly what she’s talking about, coming from the Philippines, a country she considers “ground zero of the horrifying effects that social media can have on a country’s institutions, its culture and the spirit of its people”. , as she writes her book, of it The guard and The Atlantic just released very strong excerpts1, 2.

Criticism of former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, media co-founder Maria Ressa call backwho faces jail time for his work, has seen how these technologies have the appalling power to infect a society with the “virus of lies” with impunity.

Before 2021, when Maria Ressa received the Nobel Peace Prize at the same time as Russian editor Dmitry Muratov, only one other journalist received that prize. The year was 1935. It was Carl von Ossietzky, a German reporter who was unable to collect his award because he was being held in a Nazi concentration camp.

Another era, fortunately far behind us? Not so much… By honoring two journalists more than eight decades later, the Norwegian Nobel Committee underscored that the world is at a similar historical moment, existential for democracy, writes Maria Ressa. For them we live in the middle of World War III. A war on two fronts. One, more conventional, with the war between Russia and Ukraine. The other, more modern, with that other war against every individual on the platforms of the web giants, detonating “an invisible nuclear bomb” in our information ecosystem.

The journalist specifically attacks Facebook, which has done almost nothing to protect civil society from the epidemic of misinformation.

With a business model that rewards lies and devalues ​​facts, the web giants are eroding democracy. And it could happen very quickly, she warns.

When Rodrigo Duterte’s regime stormed Facebook with fake news and online intimidation to silence its critics and opponents in the Philippines, Maria Ressa tried unsuccessfully to alarm Facebook executives. In 2016, two months before the US presidential election, she even joked to them: “You have an election coming up in the United States. If you’re not careful, Trump could win! “They had a lot of laughs,” she said in an interview with my colleague Isabelle Hachey3.

For several years, Filipinos have been at the top of the list of citizens who spend most of their time on the internet and social media. In 2017, 97% of them used Facebook. When Maria Ressa gave Mark Zuckerberg this statistic, he was silent for a moment before throwing a joke at her. “Wait, Maria… where’s the other 3%? »

At that time she was still laughing, she says in her book.

But today, two minutes before the end, she’s not laughing anymore. Because she knows only too well that the virus of lies that has been spreading in the Philippines has wreaked havoc elsewhere on the planet. She knows only too well that the absence of the rule of law in the virtual world has dire consequences in the real world. She knows only too well that online impunity leads to offline impunity.

“What I have witnessed and documented over the past decade is the divine power of technology to infect each and every one of us with a virus of lies, pitting us against each other and fueling, even creating, our fears, anger and hate and accelerates the rise of authoritarians and dictators around the world. »

That said, it sounds scary and discouraging. But Maria Ressa’s message is not necessarily defeatist. Rather, it is a call for urgent action to defend democracy.

Its long-term solution? Education.

medium term ? Laws and policies to rein in the giants of the internet and “create a vision of the internet that binds us, rather than tears us apart.”

Short term ? Working together to put civil society and facts at the heart of our information ecosystem.

Because while there are still two minutes in the game…

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