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Nobel Peace laureates blast tech giants and warn against rising authoritarianism

"What happens on social media doesn't stay on social media," Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa said on Friday, as she accepted the award in Oslo's city hall.
Per Ole Hagen
Getty Images
"What happens on social media doesn't stay on social media," Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa said on Friday, as she accepted the award in Oslo's city hall.

OSLO — This year's Nobel Peace Prize recipients — two investigative journalists from the Philippines and Russia — used their acceptance speeches today to criticize social media companies for spreading disinformation and to warn about the growing spread of authoritarianism.

Maria Ressa, the CEO of Rappler, a Filipino news site, said social media companies have a responsibility to fight disinformation and its corrosive effects on public discourse and democracy.

"If you're working in tech, I'm talking to you," said Ressa, addressing dignitaries in Oslo's cavernous city hall. " How can you have election integrity if you don't have integrity of facts?"

Russia has labeled many journalists enemies of the people, awardee says

The other winner, Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, spoke of the growing dangers of practicing journalism in an authoritarian state. Since 2000, six journalists and contributors to the newspaper have been murdered.

"Journalism in Russia is going through a dark valley," Muratov told the audience, which had been reduced from a planned 1,000 to just 200 in recent days because of rising COVID-19 cases in Oslo. "Over a hundred journalists, media outlets, human rights defenders and NGOs have recently been branded as 'foreign agents.' In Russia, this means 'enemies of the people.'"

But Muratov said investigative journalists are crucial to helping people understand current affairs. He cited a recent example in which reporters discovered that the number of Belarusian flights from the Middle East to Minsk, the Belarusian capital, had quadrupled in the fall. Belarus was encouraging refugees to mass at the Belarus-Polish border to engineer a migration crisis that analysts say is designed to destabilize the European Union. Muratov added that, despite growing risks, reporters must continue to dig for facts.

"As the great war photographer Robert Capa said: 'If your picture isn't good enough, you aren't close enough,' " Muratov said.

For the Philippine government, Rappler's reporting has been far too close for comfort

Rappler's reporting has been too close for the Philippine government. When the website exposed the government's murderous war on drugs five years ago, supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte turned to social media to attack and spread false information about Ressa and the company.

Since then, Ressa said, other countries, including the United States, have seen how the unchecked spread of disinformation can create alternative realities and threaten democracy.

"Silicon Valley's sins came home to roost in the United States on January 6 with mob violence on Capitol Hill," she said. "What happens on social media doesn't stay on social media."

NPR London producer Jessica Beck contributed to this report

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.