THEawarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, Friday, October 8, to the intrepid Maria Ressa, founder of the independent Filipino news site Rapper, and to the courageous Dmitri Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta is far from trivial. It is a call to awakening, a welcome sign, contributing to awareness of the many threats to the freedom to inform and to those who embody this fight. In many regions, this right is declining. The president of the Norwegian committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, noted this, noting that “Democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly unfavorable conditions.”
The first threat is physical. During the ceremony, Dmitry Muratov paid tribute to the six members of his editorial staff killed in the exercise of the profession, including Anna Politkovskaia. Russia and the Philippines have in common, in different latitudes, that a reporter who says too much about central power or local potentates can end up assassinated. As such, the Nobel committee could as well have awarded its distinction to Mexican journalists, the deadliest country for the profession, or to those who risked taking pictures of demonstrations of women in the streets of Kabul at the first weeks of the new Taliban power. It is each of them in reality that this award honors.
The fight for information suffers secondly from the advent of powers assuming a violent rhetoric and attacking the filters that could be inserted between them and the citizens whose vote they covet. Those who seek the truth are automatically placed in an awkward, sometimes dangerous, position. Like these Filipino digital media journalists Rapper threatened for investigating President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, who portrays himself as a killer.
Facebook has become “a monster”
In Russia as in China, leaders rejecting the foundations of the democratic system do not hesitate to use force. The very day of the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize, a former Chinese investigative journalist, Luo Changping, who had considered it more prudent to change careers in the face of the omnipotence of the head of the party state, was arrested for criticizing a patriotic film on social media. And the government announced that same Friday that in the future the “Non-public capital” will not be able to invest in media outlets or play a role in information.
This fierce fight for the truth finally comes up against the preponderant role that social networks have taken in our societies. Maria Ressa notes that Facebook has become ” a monster “, thanks to which the trolls of power instill in public opinion the idea that it is the enemy of the people, a foreign agent, and infuse lies and hatred. This is also what the whistleblower Frances Haugen has just underlined before the American Congress, who accuses the juggernaut of putting its profits before the general interest, while the public authorities have given it free rein.
All studies, internal to Facebook as well as external, show that content that offends and provokes anger is naturally more viral than content that seeks to provoke empathy. In this context, Facebook has taken a few steps, but mainly on American soil: 87% of the number of hours devoted to the fight against disinformation focused on the United States, when the rest of the world represents 90% of its users. This distortion shows how the fight for the freedom to inform has lost its universality.