“Online violence is real world violence” – Maria Ressa
Rappler CEO and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, in her Woodrow Wilson Prize acceptance speech at Princeton University on February 19, pointed out that the violence seen online and the violence in the real world are one and the same.
“There is no difference between online violence and our physical world. They are one in the same. Online violence is real world violence. If you can make people believe that lies are facts, you control them. This is why we have the rise of tyranny all over the world,” Ressa said.
It was an important reminder of a key element of disinformation, fake news and information operations around the world – that ideas sown online can translate into action in the real world, or physical violence and in aggression.
Often, threats or aggressive statements made online can seem a little less harmful than a face-to-face encounter in the real world. But that’s not to say that hateful sentiments and rhetoric held on digital platforms don’t have an effect on real-world violence or aggression toward a person, country, or organization. Misinformation stories are seeded online and can metastasize in the physical world, causing damage in the real world.
It’s important to remember the real physical consequences of misinformation, to be able to remember that this is a problem we cannot sweep under the rug when we disconnect from our devices.
Ressa – as well as her personal experience of receiving a huge amount of hateful messages in the past for her and stories of Rappler on the internet being weaponized in 2016 – recalled several great examples of info ops being used as one of the weapons to stir up his audience, resulting in real-world damage.
The Rohingya Genocide in Myanmar was made possible by online information operations that incited hatred towards Rohingya Muslims, leading to real-world persecution. In the United States, the “Stop The Steal” narrative in the United States found its way to online platforms where it grew as a movement falsely challenging Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 US election, which was is then translated into real harm during the US Capitol. riot of January 6, 2021.
Something current where misinformation is laying the groundwork for real-world action is the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Disinformation is the key weapon that helped underpin the justification for war, the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of Ukrainian territories, among others, journalist and disinformation expert Jane Lytvynenko said in an interview of Rappler, adding that misinformation is “a weapon”. of those who do not want to build free nations.
Disinformation narratives manipulate behavior, tricking people into acting in ways that benefit the architects behind info ops and harm their targets.
Social media companies remain a key player in spreading these misinformation stories, as Ressa reiterated in his speech. These companies have focused on content moderation to combat misinformation, but Ressa says the root of the problem is still the underlying system of surveillance capitalism. Surveillance capitalism is “when our atomized personal experiences are collected by machine learning, curated by artificial intelligence, extracting our private lives for outsized corporate gain; highly profitable micro-targeting operations are designed to structurally undermine human will,” Ressa explained.
Ressa said content moderation is indeed important, but the root cause, the underlying incentive data collection system, needs to be addressed, perhaps by a “new global coalition.” Ressa reminded the audience that Woodrow Wilson, in his day, “also enacted laws like the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act” where “he reclaimed big business power and promoted competition.”
The tech giants, because of their overwhelming influence in the market and the way the current system encourages data collection, need to be mobilized.
Ressa recalled how in her Nobel lecture she said that “an atomic bomb has exploded in our information ecosystem”. Throughout history, authoritarian leaders have always found ways to lie and manipulate. With online platforms and the way these platforms operate, these authoritarian rulers have simply found a way to supersize lies to become nuclear weapons of disinformation, destroying truth and the fabric of democracy; an online explosion spreading to the physical world.
The question remains: authoritarian leaders will behave according to their nature, but what can be done to neutralize the super weapon that is social media? How to neutralize the power of social networks as a weapon of mass manipulation?
Now these are old questions. But these are questions to which apparently we still haven’t found clear answers. “I’ve said this phrase now, many times over the past six years. Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth. You can’t trust. Without that, we don’t have a shared reality. , no rule of law, no democracy,” Ressa said – a quote that will have to be repeated over and over again until, among other factors, there is definitive regulation that shuts down the gold mine that is surveillance capitalism.
Until then, as Ressa said in his speech, “we are Pavlov’s dogs experienced in real time.”
“And the consequences are disastrous. It happens to you, no matter how smart you are, it happens to the whole world. – Rappler.com