Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021.
Today, in Russia, one cannot say the word “war.”
Instead, the bloody assault on the people of Ukraine must be called a “special military operation.” Dozens and dozens of websites, well beyond the official state media machinery, are pumping out false narratives, and newspapers that do real journalism, like Novaya Gazeta, are being silenced.
Meanwhile, networked social media propaganda is alive and well in south-east Asia, as the brutal history of the Marcos military regime is being systematically erased in the Philippines, helping bring Ferdinand Marcos Jr. — aka “Bongbong” — to power.
Globally, we are in the grips of information disorder. Without facts, there is no truth. Without truth, there is no trust. Without trust, there is no shared reality, no democracy, and it becomes impossible to deal with the world’s existential problems.
Authoritarian governments have always muzzled independent media, of course, but it’s time for a reckoning with Big Tech and its surveillance-based business model, actively promoting lies and hate, simply because it can make profits.
So, what do we do?
Clearly, some governments simply can’t be trusted, but this current toxic information ecosystem isn’t inevitable. We can act, and we must act — before it is too late.
That’s why, as Nobel Peace laureates and journalists, we’ve put forward a 10-point action plan for rights-respecting democratic governments around the world to reclaim the architecture of global conversation, and heal our ailing democracies.
For this, we argue that three fundamental things must change: First, we must end the surveillance-for-profit business model.
The invisible “editors” of today’s information ecosystem are opaque algorithms that recommend us content in our social media feeds. These are built to keep us scrolling endlessly by tracking everything we do online to maximize so-called engagement. It also abuses our right to privacy, allowing our data to be used against us. It must be reined in globally.
Europe has made a start in this area, with new laws like the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act. However, these laws must be enforced to compel monopoly tech platforms to de-risk their design, detox their algorithms, end surveillance advertising and give users real control. Advertisers and brands have a role to play here as well — they can use their money to vote against these practices that harm society.
We also need to end tech discrimination and treat people everywhere equally.
2024 is a critical year for democracy, with elections in massive democracies like India, Indonesia, South Africa and Mexico. But none of these elections or societies are going to get anywhere near the attention or safeguards they need from major social media companies under the force of law — like the United States or the European Union does.
In many parts of the world, only direct pressure on these platforms will work — because governments are complicit. thus, we will need concerted civil society research, as well as pressure and solidarity from across the globe to demand transparency and accountability from these Big Tech platforms, particularly in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Finally, we need to rebuild independent journalism as an antidote to tyranny.
By swallowing up advertising revenue and enabling the industrial-scale distribution of hate and misinformation, Big Tech has unleashed forces that are devastating independent media. According to Freedom House, only 13 percent of the world’s population can access a genuinely free press. And in an ecosystem where Russians can’t even say the word “war,” how can we hold power to account amid such an abuse of language and facts?
There’s no doubt that journalism itself has to change. Instead of retreating into the old ways of chasing false “objectivity,” it must evolve to reflect the diversity and nuance of the world we live in. And it will take scaled-up government investment, as well as genuine support for journalists under attack, to rescue this vital pillar of free societies.
We believe that our action plan to address this crisis is achievable. Nearly 100 experts and civil society organizations have joined us and other Nobel Laureates in signing it, and more will do so in the coming days.
The more support it gets, the more power we are able to grow to save what we simply cannot take for granted — democracy, freedom and peace.