The international campaigns of Reporters Without Borders slammed the “armies of trolls” that attack Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa without let-up, making her the journalist that has endured the most online abuse anywhere.
Rebecca Vincent, director of International Campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, said Ressa is “in and out of court nearly every day on different cases”.
She added: “This is used to harass her and to distract from her journalism because it impacts her journalism and work. It has been a significant burden on her. There is always this threat of potential arrest. She leaves her home with bail money just in case.
“Her case is so emblematic of the whole fight for press freedom and the fight against disinformation and the fight for democracy. She has endured almost more online abuse than almost anybody I’ve met,” Vincent said.
She said the abuse Ressa has suffered is more vitriolic than most cases she has seen around the world — adding: “In person she is fighting in court, online she is attacked by armies of trolls”.
In an interview with the British The Independent, Ressa said Duterte’s drug campaign created online distribution networks which attack journalists or politicians holding him to account or people who questioned his drug war
The prominent journalist said “lies laced with anger and hate” circulate “faster and further” than facts on social media as she warned Duterte’s rise had partly been fueled by Facebook.
Ressa, who is facing up to 100 years in prison on charges campaigners have branded as assault on press freedom, said: “The rhetoric is appealing as Hitler’s was, because populism and digital authoritarianism is enabled by social media.”
“Duterte was not only able to harness people who believe in his populist rhetoric. He was able to grow it. Firstly, Facebook has enabled the rise of Duterte. “Secondly, Facebook has enabled the breakdown of facts and has polarized our society even more. Before Duterte, we didn’t disagree on facts. We all agreed,” Ressa added.
The journalist, who spent nearly 20 years working as a lead investigative reporter in Southeast Asia for CNN, argued misogyny and attacks on the LGBT+ community “go hand in hand” with the rise of fascism.
“It is very similar to the same things we lived through before,” Ressa added. “These types of things where you turn things against each other have been fast-tracked by our information ecosystem.”
Ressa, who has won a slew of prestigious awards, and her investigative team uncovered a network of 26 Facebook accounts pushing false information which reached three million users ahead of the election which Duterte won back in 2016.
The team stumbled across a network of fake accounts disseminating wholly erroneous baseless news which was being spearheaded by the Filipino state.
Duterte’s campaign created online distribution networks which attack journalists or politicians holding him to account or people who questioned his drug war, Ressa added.
The journalist, who has nine criminal cases involving cyber-libel charges pending against her, and 10 warrants for her arrest, has been bombarded by vitriolic misogynistic hate online, which includes both rape and death threats.
UNESCO, the UN cultural agency which gave Ressa its annual press freedom prize earlier this year, said she previously received an average of over 90 hate messages an hour on Facebook.
Ressa added: “Almost half a million social media posts have attacked me. Sixty percent were tearing down my credibility. That is the goal. Forty percent were tearing me down. It was sexist. It was misogynistic. It was dehumanizing.
Ressa, who is being represented by international lawyer Amal Clooney, said the “trumped-up charges” she is currently facing are a politically charged reaction to Rappler’s investigations into Duterte’s bloody war on drugs which has spawned thousands of killings carried out by the police.