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How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future - Maria Ressa

Last updated Aug 29, 2023


# Metadata

# Highlights

# Foreword

there is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice. (Location 43)

there are, today, more autocracies in the world than there are democracies. (Location 56)

Elie Wiesel warned us that there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. (Location 62)

# Prologue The Invisible Atom Bomb Live in the (Present) Moment (of the Past)

I see the possibilities— how, despite the darkness, this is also a time when we can rebuild our societies, starting with what’s right in front of us: our areas of influence. (Location 82)

social media has destroyed our shared reality, the place where democracy happens. (Location 111)

Impunity online naturally led to impunity offline, destroying existing checks and balances. (Location 114)

Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. Without all three, we have no shared reality, and democracy as we know it— and all meaningful human endeavors— are dead. (Location 118)

what I lay out in this book: an exploration into the values and principles not just of journalism and technology but of the collective action we need to take to win this battle for facts. (Location 120)

You will see the simple ideas I hold on to in order to make what have— over time— become instinctive but thoughtful decisions, layering experiences upon new experiences of the present moment of the past. (Location 123)

The goals of the gatekeepers and the disinformation operatives aligned. (Location 136)

whoever won the election would determine not just our future but also our past. You can’t have integrity of elections if you don’t have integrity of facts. (Location 152)

Their accomplice is technology, the silent nuclear holocaust in our information ecosystem. We must treat its aftermath the way the world did after the devastation of World War II: creating institutions and agreements like NATO, the United Nations, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (Location 156)

Democracy is fragile. You have to fight for every bit, every law, every safeguard, every institution, every story. (Location 162)

Please ask yourself the same question my team and I ask every day: What are you willing to sacrifice for the truth? (Location 166)

# Part I Homecoming Power, the Press, and the Philippines 1963– 2004

# Chapter 1 The Golden Rule Make the Choice to Learn

You don’t know who you are until you’re forced to fight for it. (Location 177)

Meaning is not something you stumble across or what someone gives you; you build it through every choice you make, the commitments you choose, the people you love, and the values you hold dear. (Location 180)

a sprawling archipelago of disparate languages and cultures united by the Catholic Church. (Location 189)

The joke about colonial rule is that the Philippines spent three hundred years in a convent and fifty years in Hollywood. (Location 196)

She taught me to work hard in school and instilled a mindset of delayed gratification: (Location 206)

My mom was larger than life: petite, beautiful, always full of laughter. (Location 213)

my friend Stanley Karnow wrote in his epic In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines. “Americans neglected to establish an effective and impartial administration . . . so Filipinos turned to politicians instead of the bureaucracy for assistance, a practice that fostered patronage and corruption.” (Location 246)

Our family believed in America: you worked hard, you paid your taxes, and you got what you deserved. (Location 254)

I know what it does to people, how uncertainty and fear grow, how those who work hard and follow the rules feel cheated when promises are broken. When you throw in social media and information operations, those same people are targeted and susceptible; they believe the lies. (Location 256)

the school, like St. Scholastica’s back in the Philippines, used the SRA Reading Lab, one of the earliest personalized learning programs for reading, writing, and comprehension, which allowed students to move at their own pace. (Location 279)

I am by nature shy, an introvert. (Location 284)

I remember my silence as learning, a continuation of the “speak when you’re spoken to” mentality from my upbringing and schooling in the Philippines. I was soaking in my new world like a sponge. (Location 285)

Somehow you adopt the dreams that float in the air around you. (Location 290)

When the world became overwhelming, I channeled my energies into hours of practicing the piano. (Location 293)

The first was always to make the choice to learn. That meant embracing change and mustering the courage to fail; success and failure are two sides of the same coin. You cannot succeed if at some point you haven’t failed. Most people, I realized, chose comfort, remaining in what was familiar: old friends, routines, habits. (Location 298)

I made real everything I learned. All I had to do was practice. (Location 306)

my second lesson: to embrace my fear. (Location 311)

When you take a risk, you have to trust that someone will come to your aid; and when it’s your turn, you will help someone else. It’s better to face your fear than to run from it because running won’t make the problem go away. When you face it, you have the chance to conquer it. That was how I began to define courage. (Location 323)

My third lesson was about standing up to bullies, (Location 325)

Since everything was foreign to me, I usually had no choice but to stay quiet, observe, and learn. Because I was already so different from the others, I felt the need to conform much less and had the luxury of observing and understanding the crowd without ever being part of it. (Location 326)

silence is complicity. (Location 331)

what I learned about popularity: people like you if you give them what they want. The question is: Is it what you want? (Location 341)

Mr. Spaulding was not only my violin teacher and orchestra conductor; he helped me learn to play up to eight different instruments. He nurtured me and others like me: kids looking for our place in the world. (Location 348)

another lesson you learned while in Don Spaulding’s orbit: that no one can accomplish anything meaningful alone. (Location 355)

how good a team player you are depends on your skills, your drive, your endurance. (Location 357)

The magic happened when all of the work faded into the background and we lived inside the music, interpreting the notes and creating music together. To get to that point required hours and hours of practice. (Location 359)

an orchestra was a perfect metaphor for a working democracy: the music gave the people our notes, our systems, but how you play, feel, and follow— and how you lead— that’s all up to you. (Location 361)

books were what explained everything to me that people couldn’t— or answered questions I couldn’t ask. (Location 364)

I loved Harlequin romances and science fiction novels, which helped me imagine different worlds such as the ones Isaac Asimov built. (Location 365)

I read all the Star Trek novelizations by James Blish and had a shelf at home where I collected them. The books helped me understand my own mind. (Location 366)

To this day, when someone asks me who my heroes are, I point to the combination of Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk, rational logical analysis tempered by empathy, instinct, and emotions. (Location 370)

I applied to thirteen colleges including six-year med programs, military academies, and several Ivy League schools. (Location 379)

I was pragmatic. Even if I didn’t understand the devil on my shoulder, I knew that learning— and learning beyond standard school books— would only help me. (Location 382)

# Chapter 2 The Honor Code Draw the Line

My freshman year, I studied all five major world religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism. (Location 401)

I saw how the rules of science, of physics, were philosophical, like the laws of thermodynamics: how everything moves to maximum entropy or chaos, and how it takes energy to maintain order. (Location 404)

the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which I would use as the epigraph of my first book: that the very act of observing changes what you observe and that the more you drill down, the more unknowable what you are searching for becomes. (Location 406)

That Honor Code helped me define my values early and clearly— before any moral dilemma could tempt me to rationalize selfish, bad behavior. It helped me avoid situational ethics later in life. It was simple. Draw the line: on one side you’re good; the other, you’re evil. (Location 417)

They made me realize how much I had compensated for being an outsider, always pursuing perfection to fill the absence of belonging. (Location 422)

Of them all, I learned the most from theater, even things as simple as breathing: lying down, breathing deeply, visualizing air and energy going in and out, centering yourself in the moment. Letting your mind and body work together to be absolutely present. (Location 424)

in order to have a clear view of the world, you have to ask yourself the toughest questions. (Location 443)

Staying silent or compliant changed nothing. Speaking up was an act of creation. (Location 447)

In playwriting class, I also learned to be more consciously creative, to gain comfort with uncertainty and continue to explore. (Location 448)

I had always tended to avoid negative emotions like anger, but my acting teacher pushed me to immerse myself in the emotion. (Location 449)

Trying to understand why led me back to the past. My boyfriend urged me to read Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self, (Location 452)

Another key text for me during that time was T. S. Eliot’s essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” He argued that the way you read William Shakespeare is affected by the last novel you read, and the last novel you read is affected by the fact that you read Shakespeare. This notion collapses time, space, and tradition because both past and present coexist, changing each other and creating the future. (Location 463)

I set myself a twofold challenge: how to understand the world and my place in it, and how to build my confidence while controlling my ego. I wanted to achieve an “empty mirror,” a concept I took from a book about a Buddhist monastery: to stand in front of a mirror and see the world without my image obstructing the view. I wanted to know myself to such a degree that I could take myself out of the equation when approaching the world around me and responding to it. That is clarity— the ability to remove your self and your ego. (Location 475)

Their ostentatiousness was so lurid that it humiliated their people. (Location 487)

Conflicted about loyalty to the different characters in my play, I also discovered a greater sense of empathy within the political and for political actors. (Location 507)

even then I knew that intellect without emotion is flawed— and that some of the greatest insights can come only from letting go, something I still was reluctant to do. (Location 512)

I was learning how to make decisions, but, afraid to make mistakes, I sometimes took too long to make them. (Location 514)

whenever I was lost or needed to make a quick decision, I began to develop a formula: I look at what I’m afraid of, downplay my ego, then follow the Golden Rule and the Honor Code. (Location 515)

Home is about emotional roots: culture, food, implicit values, the warmth of familiarity. You belong there. It has its rituals that mark the passage of time and give it meaning. (Location 525)

I finally felt comfortable being an outsider looking in, wanting to belong but comfortable with observing. (Location 527)

# Chapter 3 The Speed of Trust Be Vulnerable

The systems, which needed to adapt to broadcasting breaking news, were only as powerful as the strengths and weaknesses of the people on the team. (Location 576)

“envelopmental journalism,” referring to the envelope of money that organizers of press conferences often handed out to the journalists attending. (Location 596)

In the Philippines, there was a personal cost to calling out an error or demanding better in a work culture; SIR, or “smooth interpersonal relations,” had long been prioritized. So we created our own team and energized them with a vision of what we wanted our newscast to be. (Location 620)

We wanted video with the tightest editing, sequenced properly to tell a story, instead of a B-roll that unfurled lazily and meaninglessly. (Location 622)

It was always easy to spot self-censorship in an anchor read because the phrasing was angled to please the boss, at best, or avoid angering power, at worst. (Location 626)

the mindset of mediocrity, when you settle for what you can get instead of pushing for more. (Location 637)

during a military takeover one of the first things rebellious soldiers do is seize the government radio or television station to control information. (Location 644)

I made the choice to learn, but it was more than that— I learned to trust: to drop my shields and be vulnerable. I have rarely been disappointed when I do. That, to me, is strength and why I believe in the goodness of human nature. When you’re vulnerable, you create the strongest bonds and the most inspiring possibilities. (Location 668)

In my early twenties, I learned how to create and build a team that was more powerful than the sum of its parts. (Location 673)

I wasn’t just learning by doing; I was learning how to lead. (Location 675)

She also taught me to embrace and love the Philippines, despite its imperfections. (Location 691)

What she said then has stayed with me until today and still influences the way I defend our journalism. “Our integrity and our credibility are on the line here,” she said. “So if anybody comes and says that we cannot air a piece or wants to preview a piece, that to us is tantamount to muzzling our freedom of the press. . . . And we will never, never, never agree to be intimidated by anyone, no matter who he is.” (Location 700)

What you choose to do shapes the person you become. Nothing shaped my personality— or my ability to withstand threats— more than becoming a breaking-news television journalist, learning to maintain my composure while live and even under literal gunfire. (Location 717)

In breaking-news TV, if you panic, you can’t get the video, and when you’re live, a second is a lifetime. Later in life, I would often fall back on those skills: pushing my emotions down, staying calm, and summarizing a story in three bullet points. Like muscle memory, that skill set kicks in to help me survive crisis after crisis. (Location 718)

ideals are harder to live by when you actually have to get things done. (Location 722)

bribe— the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, makes it illegal for a US business to pay bribes to foreign officials. Usually, I later learned, American businesses hire an agent to deal with such issues instead. (Location 725)

The foundation of getting the facts is trust. Before social media, that depended on your track record and the integrity of your news organization. (Location 737)

If you’re a war zone reporter for any period of time, it becomes addictive, but you don’t know that in the beginning. (Location 741)

Work would begin at 8: 00 a.m., and by 9: 00 p.m. most nights, I would go out to dinner and hit the clubs until at least 2: 00 a.m. Who needed sleep? I stretched the twenty-four hours each day held. Those were the glorious twenties— I didn’t want to waste a moment. (Location 772)

I realized that I had compartmentalized sex and love. I wasn’t in love. I didn’t know what the word meant. (Location 782)

At the very least, I knew I needed to experience love, and I also knew that if I got married, I would no longer be able to explore the unanswered questions I had kept in a locked room. (Location 786)

“Do you love him?” she asked. “I don’t know.” “That should be an easy answer,” she replied. “If it isn’t, then you don’t. (Location 788)

The most important choice you make is the person you will spend your life with. That person’s values and choices will sway you as you create yourself, as you make the most important decisions about who you are. (Location 790)

The Manila community for gay women was like in the 1950s in the United States, largely organized around notions of butch and femme. Since I identified with neither and both, it raised a lot more questions for me. (Location 799)

I didn’t get the answers when I asked the questions, so I learned to be patient. (Location 803)

Society’s tendrils are invisible but can be like steel cables holding us in place. (Location 810)

Beautiful people, women and men, have an advantage in the world we live in. They get a lot more for a lot less effort, especially if they are charming. (Location 813)

We are all on a sexual spectrum. I was attracted to passion and intellect, energy and empathy; whether in a man or a woman, I loved connecting with people at a deeper level to share that inspirational spark. At some point, I stopped looking through the binary lenses of straight or gay and just accepted what is. (Location 816)

Love is powerful and irrational. And that’s okay. Maybe I approached it like playing an instrument: be strong in the technical exercises so you can let go and actually let the music flow. (Location 821)

I was learning that honesty was essential to a good life. (Location 827)

to be honest begins with your own truths: self-assessment, self-awareness, your empathy for others. The only thing you can control in the world is you. (Location 833)

I knew I didn’t want my sexuality to define me; it’s only one part of everything I am. (Location 835)

# Chapter 4 The Mission of Journalism Be Honest

I know what scaling up quickly does to an organization; everyone has hit-and-miss calls. If you have a good team and a good process, you hit more than you miss. But a shared mission stated by a strong leader is paramount. (Location 870)

in those early days, a strong standard of fact-based, reportage-focused news ruled contemporary life. (Location 874)

Two things had become important to me by then: bridging worlds and highlighting cultures outside the West. (Location 886)

It wasn’t my job to judge people, events, or customs; that would be arrogant. (Location 888)

Only by learning the context and observing a society’s or people’s actions over time can you assess what is happening. (Location 888)

Those in power have always attempted to control the narrative, especially during wartime. (Location 914)

We also received a huge white Toko box, which compressed video and transmitted it over an ISDN (terrestrial data) telephone line to another Toko box in the studio. On a story, I would spend hours transmitting low-quality video, then waiting longer to finish the transmission of the audio. (Location 921)

The new technology allowed us to deliver information to the public faster than any government’s ability to get information on its own. It meant that government officials had less time to think before declaring their positions and less time to deliberate before acting on them. (Location 928)

Working at CNN helped me not just to study leadership, both of countries and of media companies, but to understand the ebbs and flows of the people leaders lead. (Location 939)

That top-down oppressive, controlling political system took its toll on the people. Their leaders’ biggest sin was that they failed to educate their people. (Location 949)

I wanted to understand what— and how— students were learning. What were their values? What I saw being rewarded was respect for authority: knowing your place, rote learning, the ability to memorize and mimic answers back; neatness and punctuality; and above all, submission to their teachers and their views. They rarely articulated what they really thought. (Location 953)

To set up the CNN bureau, I spent seven trips looking for Indonesians I could hire. No one I interviewed had the skills, experience, and work ethic that I needed. (Location 957)

understanding the way a large group behaves is very different from dealing with and understanding individuals. (Location 960)

emergent behavior: that the way a system behaves can’t be predicted from what you know about the individual parts. (Location 961)

Suharto was called the “puppet master,” a dalang, who, in an Indonesian wayang performance, manipulates from the shadows the puppets projected onto a screen. The projected shadows are all the public sees. (Location 988)

The scenes I witnessed of senseless killings and beheadings made me realize how Suharto’s oppression had acted like a pressure cooker, how covering up violence only led to more violence. (Location 997)

“the people from outside; it wasn’t us.” That was always the answer when violence broke out. The force of the mob destroyed individual control, giving people the freedom to be their worst selves. (Location 1009)

Education determines the quality of governance. An investment in education takes a generation to bear fruit. Likewise, countries feel the impact of this disregard for education a generation later. (Location 1013)

Journalists and news organizations are a reflection of the people’s power to hold its leaders accountable. (Location 1016)

Honesty, delineating lines clearly and asking for permission for what you want to reveal publicly are essential to cultivating sources. (Location 1029)

Moments like that taught me that faith— regardless of whether God is Buddha, Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, or El Shaddai— is about more than just religion. (Location 1046)

I always replace “objective” with “good” to describe a journalist. (Location 1056)

A good journalist doesn’t look for balance— as when, say, a world leader commits a war crime or outright lies to his or her citizenry— because that would create a false equivalence. (Location 1056)

Good journalism is a professional discipline and judgment exercised by the entire newsroom operating under a strong standards and ethics manual. (Location 1060)

According to one of those principles, journalists listened to different sides of an issue and consolidated what they learned to help the public make their own informed decisions. (Location 1066)

The goal was not to win an argument or win a popularity contest; it was to create the more informed citizenry necessary for a democracy to work. Journalists were part of a shared culture of democracy: to listen, debate, and compromise. (Location 1074)

In most democracies, journalists were the Fourth Estate, deriving power from the people’s will, their desire for knowledge to form opinions about their lives, their country, their leaders. In exchange for this access to the people’s hearts and minds, the state gave access to journalists. At its best, the relationship is a checks-and-balances system. At its worst, the access becomes contingent on whether a journalist told the stories the state wanted. (Location 1078)

In most news groups, there was an internal battle between those in charge of the business, which needed to be on the right side of power, and the independent editorial hierarchy, which needed to be responsible to the people. That was another check and balance. (Location 1081)

the two biggest stories of my career had to do with the Philippines as the testing ground of two menaces threatening the United States and the world in the twenty-first century: Islamic terrorism and information warfare on social media. (Location 1125)

I began to keep my own database of the classified intelligence reports they shared with me. Often, to bypass unwieldy bureaucracies, investigators picked up the phone and called me to find out whether a newly discovered name was familiar or to brainstorm about what some new information could mean. (Location 1131)

Stanley Milgram (remember “six degrees of separation”?) (Location 1140)

Social network theory offered the Three Degrees of Influence Rule, a theory first posited by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler in 2007.16 Their work showed that everything we say or do ripples through our social network, creating an impact on our friends (one degree), our friends’ friends (two degrees), and even our friends’ friends’ friends (three degrees). (Location 1146)

I was turning forty, but I was still living like a student with no concept of work-life balance. My work was my life, and my life was my work. (Location 1170)

I had spent my career writing about what everyone else was doing, what kinds of institutions governments and companies were building. I wanted the experience of putting the lessons I had learned from them into practice. (Location 1179)

I asked to start as a training consultant for the first six months to give me and the people I managed the chance to get to know each other outside any power structure. (Location 1193)

crucial to whatever I would do next was a challenge I kept growing into: Learning how to tell even the harshest truths. To avoid white lies and rationalizations. To be transparent and honest. (Location 1194)

I wanted to build my vision for journalism, a news organization in the Philippines so strong and committed to the truth that no government could dream of touching it. (Location 1199)

# Part II The Rise of Facebook, Rappler, and the Internet’s Black Hole 2005– 2017

# Chapter 5 The Network Effect Hitting the Tipping Point

The media was a microcosm of what our nation’s leaders had to deal with: when situational ethics and patronage politics determine whether you, your family, and friends are rewarded or not. I was used to a certain standard of performance at CNN, where loyalty didn’t trump merit and the group had to deliver or face the consequences. (Location 1217)

I promised our team transparency, accountability, and consistency because I wanted to create systems that would function regardless of personalities. (Location 1223)

As in all things, our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses. (Location 1227)

“Be cruel to be kind.” Managers weren’t assessing the work of their subordinates honestly because they wanted to be nice, to avoid conflict. We needed to be cruel to be kind for three reasons: because we wanted to be the best; because we wanted to be world class; and because as a media organization responsible for reporting the truth about a country’s state of affairs, we had an outsized role to play in our society. (Location 1232)

the hardest decisions are the ones that you must communicate yourself. If you don’t have the courage to deliver the news to the people affected by your decision, think twice. (Location 1239)

Bit by bit, we began to change a culture that emphasized loyalty above performance, demanded blind obedience, suffocated initiative, and emphasized group loyalty instead of the greater good. All of these are the common features of a political party grabbing power or of a resiliently authoritarian country. (Location 1240)

core values of any news organization, which relies on collective intelligence, personal initiative, and coordinated immediate action. (Location 1242)

we urged our people to define their personal values and, if possible, mesh them into our organization’s values. (Location 1245)

If you try to change a culture, it will fight back. You have to have the stomach for it. (Location 1253)

We had a reporter with the elite Scout Rangers, and they told us they would march out into the streets the minute we showed them live on television. (Location 1271)

It was also the first time the Philippine government tried another tactic: using the national police as the lead agency in a political conflict situation. (Location 1282)

The seeds of Duterte’s subversion of the Constitution were planted during Arroyo’s tenure. (Location 1287)

There is a “golden hour” in every crisis during which you can proactively shape and tell a story before someone claims it for their own and it becomes a crisis. You need to know clearly what message you want to send over which distribution networks (phone calls, emails, and so on)— and all this was before the age of social media. The goal is to tell your story first, especially if it’s about you, not only to gain control of the narrative but to protect the people at risk. If you handle that well, almost everything else follows. This is how an organization survives threats to its integrity and its people. (Location 1291)

Early on, I wanted to assure them that we would do everything we could to get them out safely. We were with them, and they were with us. We started with trust. When you don’t know what’s going to happen next, being vulnerable and open is the first step to bring everyone together. (Location 1302)

Managing that crisis forged a deep tie among Glenda, Libby, and me that laid the bedrock for Rappler’s ability to handle the crises we would face in the Duterte years. (Location 1311)

We rebranded our late-night newscast Bandila, which means “flag,” because we decided to make it cool to love our country. (Location 1323)

The idea of the tipping point has its roots in epidemiology: when a virus multiplies below the radar screen and then hits the point when it changes the entire system. (Location 1329)

Crowdsourcing suggests that if a group’s members have diversity of ideas, independence of one another, a decentralized structure, and a mechanism for turning judgments into a collective decision, they can make smarter decisions than any lone genius can. Those four elements create the “wisdom of the crowds,” not mob rule. (Location 1330)

I focused our resources on two big goals: spreading empowerment and hope; and fostering debate and engagement. (Location 1338)

“Ako ang Simula,” which means “I am the beginning.” In spirit, it means “Change begins with me.” We drew from universal messages. This one was inspired by an idea often credited to Mahatma Gandhi—“ Be the change you want to see”— but it went all the way back to the ancient Greeks: Plutarch’s “What we achieve inwardly will change outward reality.” (Location 1344)

the core of a citizen journalism program in a country such as the Philippines is rooted in an individual battle for integrity: (Location 1381)

Another goal I set for social change was to foster debate and engagement. I wanted to see honest-to-goodness, no-holds-barred debate on issues that mattered, (Location 1394)

That night, I felt the physiological impact of technology, adding to my normal breaking-news adrenaline. I knew that I must have also had elevated levels of both dopamine, which causes addiction, and oxytocin, which increases the feeling of being “connected” (it’s also known as the “love hormone”). (Location 1412)

Innovation and engagement, sharing your power with your community, makes for good business. (Location 1419)

once the system and its leaders were transparent, the group felt a sense of justice, which led to accountability and consistency. (Location 1431)

wished them clarity of thought, stamina, and the courage to fight for what is right. I reminded them to avoid the compromise of mediocrity. (Location 1462)

# Chapter 6 Creating Ripples of Change Build a Team

My elevator pitch was “Rappler builds communities of action, and the food we feed them is journalism.” (Location 1517)

We had learned at ABS-CBN and other corporate media that editorial independence wasn’t as valuable without the commercial decision-making power. (Location 1520)

Participation in the platforms had the effect of tweaking our emotions by increasing the dopamine levels in our brains. 9 Because our emotions were heightened, our expectations, and the way we reacted to them, were shifting. And it was not just social media but all the technological interruptions in the modern world that were conditioning us to prefer sensationalism over objectivity. (Location 1558)

We built metal casings for our iPhones, which our reporters used as their primary cameras (and could be anchored on a tripod). (Location 1571)

Rappler’s first few years were backbreaking in terms of the pace of change, but we were experimenting with what a whole-of-society approach to solving governance problems would look like and changing our company workflows accordingly (Location 1589)

The tool we used to measure how stories provoked our readers’ emotions and how they traveled through society was the mood meter. (Location 1611)

We also wanted to foster a culture of collaboration and thought that reporters chasing online traffic could lead to corrosive competition. (Location 1619)

We unveiled the ecosystem not just for our journalists but for our government and civil society partners, as well as our advertisers. The same growth and distribution model worked for both. (Location 1633)

From 2013 to 2016, that initiative helped reduce the death toll from weather-related disturbances from triple digits to low double digits. The hashtag was #ZeroCasualty. That successful initiative would eventually be abandoned by the Duterte administration, and death tolls would soon rise to triple digits again. (Location 1651)

By creating a repository of information on Rappler, we were able to reach some of the most vulnerable sectors of society; instead of an extra cup of rice, poorer communities began to look for the right kinds of food. (Location 1658)

During the May 2013 elections, Rappler moved ahead of our Western counterparts when we signed an agreement with the Philippine Commission on Elections and published the full data set of automated voting results in a friendly user interface. It was the first time globally that granular details of voting results were available in real time. (Location 1669)

# Chapter 7 How Friends of Friends Brought Democracy Down Think Slow, Not Fast

Local officials along with law enforcement and military personnel from Duterte’s tenure as mayor of Davao were taking the top jobs in the capital. (Location 1742)

Part of why Rappler had started outperforming legacy news organizations so quickly was our use of Facebook. We had embraced the platform early and knew its performance in the Philippines better than Facebook itself did, (Location 1770)

Mark’s pitch for and its supposed advantages for developing countries used the same tactic he still uses today: the parsing of information in supposedly independent studies that would sway public opinion. (Location 1785)

In 2010, the Philippines overtook India as the world’s top call center, business process outsourcing (BPO), and shared services hub. (Location 1802)

Many foreign businesses experimenting in gray areas came to the Philippines because it had few or no internet regulations, and what regulations it did have, it didn’t enforce. (Location 1804)

When Filipino politicians began to experiment with social media, many outsourced their operations to advertising and PR strategists who pulled together a spectrum of content and distribution accounts, from digital influencers to community fake account operators. (Location 1821)

The design of social media platforms encouraged all of that behavior, so the technology platforms were having a corrupting influence on the values of our younger generation, especially those roped into working in the industry. (Location 1833)

The young fans had time to experiment and crack the code. Building fan groups helped create what were then the harmless precursors of what Facebook called “CIB”—“ Coordinated, inauthentic behavior.” (Location 1844)

“astroturfing”— the fake bandwagon effect— however, was extremely efficient. (Location 1864)

how Rappler had charted three stages of the degradation of the online information ecosystem and political life in the Philippines. One was the early experimentation and buildup of campaign machinery in 2014 and 2015. The second was the commercialization of a new online black ops industry. The third was the consolidation of power at the top and the spread of political polarization across the country. (Location 1870)

an old strategy popularized in the computer industry in the United States in the 1990s— mostly by computer companies like IBM and Microsoft targeting their competitors— known as “fear, uncertainty, and doubt,” or FUD. The disinformation campaign spread negative information and lies to fuel fear. (Location 1894)

What we were seeing was a kind of asymmetrical warfare online, except in this case it was Goliath using the tactics of David; it was the platforms and larger powers using the surreptitious tactics of a rebel group. (Location 1918)

Donald Trump flagrantly, delightedly lied all throughout his presidential campaign and into his presidency, and all of his lies took off through bottom-up social media operations similar to those in the Philippines. (Location 1925)

we struggled early on with how to balance getting out the information about manipulation, correcting the disinformation, and trying to limit its reach. We became better at this in the coming years, deciding that radical transparency, including publishing full geeky maps of the accounts taking part in disinformation networks, was the way to go: give as much information as the most detail-oriented reader might want. (Location 1990)

Timely action could have maintained a trust system that Facebook instead exploited; early action could have prevented the anarchy and chaos that encouraged and rewarded information operations in the coming years. (Location 2002)

Today, I’m beyond disillusioned. I believe that Facebook represents one of the gravest threats to democracies around the world, and I am amazed that we have allowed our freedoms to be taken away by technology companies’ greed for growth and revenues. Tech sucked up our personal experiences and data, organized it with artificial intelligence, manipulated us with it, and created behavior at a scale that brought out the worst in humanity. Harvard Business School professor emerita Shoshana Zuboff called this exploitative business model “surveillance capitalism.” 41 We all let it happen. (Location 2011)

What happens if a media organization needs to publish something that goes against the company’s interests? In a news organization, there’s a metaphorical wall between the head of editorial and the head of business because of that inherent conflict of interest; the editorial head always ends up fighting the business head, which was how old media struggled but survived. At Facebook, Sheryl collapsed the two functions together, meaning that every decision was politicized. Every decision became about making a profit and protecting Facebook’s interests. (Location 2023)

Other companies, including Google and Twitter, keep public policy and lobbying efforts separate from the teams that create and implement content rules. Several employees who resigned from Facebook demanded that those teams be separated, but to this day, that hasn’t been done. (Location 2029)

There are three assumptions implicit in everything Facebook says and does: first, that more information is better; second, that faster information is better; third, that the bad— lies, hate speech, conspiracy theories, disinformation, targeted attacks, information operations— should be tolerated in service of Facebook’s larger goals. (Location 2039)

The dangers of “more” and “faster” have led us to dystopia: the suffocation of our minds by junk, a loss of clarity of thought and a lack of concentration, and the empowerment of individual over collective thinking. (Location 2042)

Lies repeated over and over become facts in this online ecosystem. (Location 2046)

As a journalist, I know that we are only as good as our last story and any error must be accounted for, fixed, and publicly announced. (Location 2046)

one of Mark’s choices early on reflected what a young man would think but not what an experienced responsible corporate executive would do, like giving every Facebook engineer unlimited access to users’ data. (Location 2061)

Algorithms serve up content that radicalizes us. (Location 2077)

the surveillance capitalism model: increasing the companies’ growth with friends-of-friends recommendations and increasing the time you spend on a site by serving you ever more emotive, radical, and extremist content. The model bypassed our rational, logical mind, what Daniel Kahneman called “thinking slow,” and instead tapped our “thinking fast” brain: quick, instinctive, largely unconscious emotional reactions lodged in the amygdala. The late biologist E. O. Wilson called these our “paleolithic emotions.” If you read something that makes you emotional and prone to share or act, slow down; think slow, not fast. (Location 2083)

big-data companies; they often build in the biases of whoever coded them— largely young white men— and the data sets they’re fed. (Location 2093)

This is anger and hatred that coalesce into moral outrage that then turns into mob rule. (Location 2111)

# Chapter 8 How the Rule of Law Crumbled from Within Silence Is Complicity

Our office had an open floor plan. There was a center bridge— a circular raised command deck à la Star Trek— for the folks on editor duty. The people they managed sat at desks that spread from the bridge like sun rays. (Location 2159)

the Philippine news media was portraying its sinister drug war for what it was: systematic murder. (Location 2209)

His language was false (Hitler murdered 6 million Jews, and the presence of 3 million drug addicts in the Philippines was unlikely) and incendiary, but his statement took off on Facebook and social media. (Location 2228)

journalists were no longer the gatekeepers of facts and information. The new gatekeepers, the technology platforms, had put into place rules that give the equivalent of nuclear weapons to digital populists and authoritarians to turn our society and democracy— all around the world— upside down. (Location 2249)

“brigading,” or coordinated abusive online behavior. The attacks break down into several categories. There are “sock puppets,” or fake accounts that attack or praise; “mass reporting,” or organizing to negatively impact the targeted account; and “astroturfing,” or fake posts or lies designed to look like grassroots support or interest. (Location 2263)

What Facebook gave one individual’s posts or one entertainer’s videos was the high level of distribution that had once belonged to television broadcasters. (Location 2277)

The combination of bots, fake accounts, and content creators (real people like Mocha Uson) infected real people like a virus, but often those unsuspecting citizens didn’t even know they had been infected. (Location 2290)

the metanarrative of a tragic event had always been seeded years earlier through toxic internet narratives. (Location 2292)

Mark Zuckerberg didn’t take the comments into account when he claimed that disinformation composed only 1 percent of the site. (Location 2300)

It was only in retrospect that the cycle became clear. We had standards and ethics manuals; we upheld freedom of expression. We were fighting a war in a new world using old-world paradigms, (Location 2323)

Within six months of Duterte’s taking power in the Philippines, the checks and balances of the three branches of government— executive, legislative, and judicial— collapsed through a system of patronage, blind loyalty, and what I started calling the “three C’s”: corrupt, coerce, co-opt. (Location 2340)

I wanted Rappler to have the golden seal from the global community and to attract investment leaders in two areas: journalism and technology that enabled civic engagement. (Location 2414)

In 2017, we submitted ourselves to an external independent audit by GMT Media, led by former BBC World Service director Jerry Timmins, that compared Rappler to the main Filipino news organizations as well as global news standards. (Location 2422)

the serenity prayer: to accept the things I could not change, find the courage to change the things I could, and have the wisdom to know the difference. Despite the churning in my stomach, I learned to embrace my fear and change what I could. (Location 2432)

We encouraged our staff to talk to us about what was happening to them online and offered counseling to any member of our team who needed help. They weren’t afraid as long as we weren’t; first they gained courage from us, and then, when we got tired, we gained courage from them. (Location 2441)

An Attack on One Is an Attack on All, (Location 2535)

Sometimes you need an external validation of your reality. (Location 2548)

At one point, she and her team would do a deep dive into how three news organizations from the Global South were evolving their operations because of these new forms of attacks. She spent at least a week each at the Daily Maverick in South Africa, at the Quint in India, and in Rappler’s newsroom. (Location 2551)

Google was not going to allow its publication. (Location 2588)

# Part III Crackdown Arrests, Elections, and the Fight for Our Future 2018– Present

# Chapter 9 Surviving a Thousand Cuts Believe in the Good

we didn’t stand for it. We knew our rights. You feel the fear; then you bust through it. (Location 2625)

As I had learned throughout my career: don’t let anyone else tell your story in the golden hour. (Location 2637)

there are no facts to counter the lies that make their way to family and friends from information operations, disinformation spreads further exponentially. (Location 2696)

government officials moved at glacial, consensus-building pace, mapping out downsides and including public discussions as part of their process. Technology firms moved fast, often removing safeguards, and had no qualms about breaking things they didn’t understand or care about. (Location 2721)

Fascism: A Warning (Location 2724)

The rule of law can be an illusion and can vanish in an instant— a lesson I had first learned in Indonesia as a young journalist. (Location 2763)

the genesis of #HoldTheLine: the line in our country’s Constitution that defined our rights. Using fear and violence, the holders of power were trying to force us to step back and give up our rights. In my mind, we linked arms to hold the line at any attempt to violate them. And we would never voluntarily give up our rights, no matter the danger. (Location 2766)

I preferred confrontation because it would bring resolution. I wasn’t going to go out of my way to bend to the government’s intimidation tactics. (Location 2798)

I wished I could pass that energy and anticipation to the journalists like me who were having to find hope to power through each difficult moment. (Location 2866)

# Chapter 10 Don’t Become a Monster to Fight a Monster Embrace Your Fear

On the way, I was stopped by a breathless Dr. June Pagaduan-Lopez, an acquaintance from an award we received, The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS), a group of women high achievers. She had come to the NBI office as soon as she’d heard I was arrested because she didn’t want me to be alone for the medical exam, when you are forced to take off your clothes and are at your most vulnerable. She knew that I could bring my own doctor with me, so she asked me to declare her my physician, which I did. (Location 2935)

Press freedom is not just about journalists; it is not just about Rappler; it is not just about me. Press freedom is the foundation of the right of every Filipino to have access to the truth. Silence is complicity because silence is consent. (Location 2971)

I had acquired a second, newer computer with fewer documents on it in case my electronic devices were confiscated. (Location 3001)

When rats desert a sinking ship, it’s a sign of danger. (Location 3005)

Those are the fears they never tell you about: that you can imagine infinite worst-case possibilities and, especially if you are the target, that you need a reality check at key moments. (Location 3028)

Their protocol called for them to handcuff me, but they must have found it strange or difficult for some reason. I waited as they tried to find a compromise. The subtle dissension within their ranks showed me something: individuals in a country that is sliding toward autocracy don’t lose their personal agency in one day; they make choices every day whether or not to comply with the autocrat’s demands. (Location 3041)

When I don’t get enough sleep, it shows in my skin. I have atopic dermatitis or eczema, extremely dry skin that erupts— the skin literally breaks open when I’m stressed. Through years of dealing with this, I have learned that my mind and emotions play as much of a role as the medicines my dermatologist prescribes for me. (Location 3055)

“You have to give governments like that room to save face, Maria,” she replied. “There are things that happen publicly, and there are things that happen behind the scenes. A lot of my work I can’t ever talk about.” (Location 3079)

once a state files a criminal case against you, people look at you differently— much as I once had with Leila de Lima. It isn’t “You’re innocent until proven guilty” as much as “Prove your innocence.” Somehow our instinct is still to trust that a state won’t use its power in an absurdly vindictive manner— that is, until the evidence of it becomes overwhelming. (Location 3082)

Its targeted legal harassment of Maria identifies her to Duterte’s officials and supporters as an enemy, implicitly granting them permission for further attacks. (Location 3133)

in times of crisis we have always taken a step back, assessed it, and carefully calibrated our response to it. “Look at history,” Glenda said. “We know where this is headed. We’ve always known what we’re doing, and nothing has changed.” (Location 3146)

It was a disastrous combination of incompetence, arrogance, and impunity. (Location 3153)

It was a point Amal was reinforcing all the time, the slippery slope of what happens when those charged with keeping strong the rule of law bend and break it. There is nothing left. (Location 3156)

no one can make you do anything you do not want to do. All the government’s actions— the online attacks, the president’s threats, the legal cases it filed against me— all of them were meant to frighten me, to make me so afraid that I wouldn’t be me. The people in the government wanted me to act like them. (Location 3173)

The term gaslighting— in which an abuser avoids accountability by either claiming the abused is crazy or turning it around and accusing the victim of what the abuser is doing— took (Location 3176)

I believe that the way to fight back is to expose every single abusive step in what the government is doing to me, Rappler, other journalists, human rights activists, and Filipino citizens. (Location 3191)

quote from Ursula K. Le Guin (who used “boy” and “man” in this paragraph, but I will use “girl” and “woman” instead): “You thought, as a girl, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a woman’s real power grows and her knowledge widens, ever the way she can follow grows narrower: until at last she chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what she must do.” (Location 3193)

You value life most intensely when you are living with the threat of its end, and you fight every step, moment by moment, to find meaning. (Location 3200)

Early in his term, and again in 2019, President Duterte had admitted to taking fentanyl. Twink was adamant that Duterte couldn’t be coherent with the far larger doses he was taking. (Location 3231)

While the very heart of me— that chamber that stores my conscience and conviction, love and dreams, memory and self-respect— remains unbreached, I will fight. (Location 3277)

# Chapter 11 Hold the Line What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Journalism enabled facts to survive. But it was communities that must respond. Globally, we needed a new model of civic engagement. (Location 3310)

The first problem was the company’s distribution model: an oversight board on content could never match the speed of the dissemination of information online. (Location 3317)

academics and journalists could spin themselves in circles, but activists provided a road map for action points. The Real Facebook Oversight Board launched a little more than a month before the 2020 US presidential elections. (Location 3323)

We distilled them down to three demands of Facebook: to enforce its own policies and remove posts inciting violence; to ban ads that seek to delegitimize election results; and to take measures to prevent disinformation and misinformation about the election results. (Location 3329)

Studio B: Unscripted, an Al Jazeera program (Location 3336)

Chris’s main message and lesson learned from Cambridge Analytica was “Colonialism never died, it just moved online.” (Location 3347)

Former digital managers of products with companies like Yahoo and startup founders had told me the same thing: if you want to test a digital product for the West, you try it out first in the Philippines. (Location 3357)

Our first step in the fact-checking process was to find the lies. As mentioned previously, the best lies are half-truths that work to support a metanarrative, like “Duterte is the best leader” or “Journalists are criminals.” Step two was to use natural language processing, using computers to process large amounts of text to pull out the consistent messages of networks of disinformation. Doing that led us to step three, which was identifying the websites and other digital assets associated with those networks, including those profiting off the enterprise. (Location 3421)

For the government and political players who exploit the platforms, I’ve tried many different ways to fight back: ignoring them (it doesn’t work— you lose without even knowing it); responding to them (massive time suck, much too atomized). Finally, I settled on my own North Star, what had also been the elevator pitch of Rappler: build communities of action. (Location 3470)

Until 2016, we had been powered largely by advertising. Once the online attacks began and our advertising revenue dropped, we pivoted the company toward other tech services, which prepared us for the pandemic lockdown. (Location 3490)

# Chapter 12 Why Fascism Is Winning Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate

It was glorious to be a Hauser Leader at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership and a fellow at its Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. I could focus on what had increasingly become my obsession: how technology and journalism were shaping politics and public policy as well as what it means for public leadership. When the wrong behavior is constantly rewarded, how do our leaders of tomorrow decide their values? What does leadership look like in our upside-down world? (Location 3637)

Primary extraction is a morally reprehensible practice that Shoshana compares to slavery; she demands that it be outlawed. If that original sin is corrected, every other problem it has created, the cascading failures it has allowed, would be addressed, including safety, competition, and privacy. (Location 3653)

Social media was shaping journalism, much like Facebook told advertisers and publishers that video would get greater distribution so news groups around the world had laid off editorial staff and hired video teams and advertisers had placed their ads on video on Facebook. Except that Facebook lied: it inflated the number of its video views by as much as 900 percent, and, according to its internal documents, it lied about its mistake, keeping it secret for more than a year. (Location 3672)

After being caught in the lie by a Rappler exclusive, his Senate office quietly changed his résumé on the Senate website, but he doubled down on the lie, a lesson many people, including Donald Trump and Mark Zuckerberg, have learned is easily facilitated by social media. (Location 3711)

His twenty-minute speech kicking off his campaign offered no platform, no hows and whys, and certainly no mention of the thousands of people killed under his father, the millions of people who had lost their jobs, the trillions of pesos of national debt incurred, and the corruption scandals that came with all that. He did, however, repeatedly paint a glowing future and promised to make the Philippines great again. (Location 3740)

My hope is that others can replicate our three pillars: technology, journalism, and community to fight back and build forward. First, we must demand accountability from technology. This has to start with government action, as the social media companies regard public pressure and outcry as something that can be safely ignored. But aside from legislation, the only way to fight technology is with technology. (Location 3746)

The second pillar is to protect and grow investigative journalism. (Location 3751)

the International Fund for Public Interest Media, (Location 3752)

For our third pillar, we continued to build larger and larger communities of action. (Location 3765)

the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Center for Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders pulled together more than eighty press freedom, media, and civil society groups, initially to help Rappler— it’s called the #HoldTheLine Coalition— but also other journalists needing support around the world. (Location 3766)

We made the switch from social to search once we realized that social media was actually degrading quality journalism. (Location 3781)

We knew a solution wouldn’t just magically appear. So we do our best with what we have: we act, and each day we iterate. (Location 3805)

we had help, relying on the Google News Initiative and the San Francisco startup Meedan, which provided a tech and data platform that connected the layers of the pyramid. (Location 3810)

If your nation has elections coming up, organize your #FactsFirst pyramid a year earlier. The very minimum is six months. (Location 3817)

The struggle of man against power,” wrote Milan Kundera, “is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” (Location 3837)

I have lived through several cycles of history, chronicling the wild swings of the pendulum that would eventually stabilize and find a new equilibrium. When journalists were the gatekeepers to our public information ecosystem, those swings took decades. Once technology took over and abdicated responsibility for our emotional safety, history could be changed in months. That’s how easy it became to shift our memory through our emotions. (Location 3840)

for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, Newton’s third law of motion. The more progressive we became— women’s rights, gay marriage, more pluralistic societies— the greater the nostalgia for a simplicity that never really existed. (Location 3848)

Today, an emergent wave of right-wing populist leaders uses social media to question and break down reality, triggering rage and paranoia on a bed of exponential lies. This is how fascism is normalized and where political outrage meets terrorism, the vanguard of mass violence. (Location 3852)

the modern-day echo in May 2022 by Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who includes replacement theory in state ideology: “I see the great European population exchange as a suicidal attempt to replace the lack of European, Christian children with adults from other civilizations— migrants.” (Location 3858)

Replacement theory is embedded in the manifestos of self-declared fascists radicalized on the internet (Location 3865)

So how do you stand up to a dictator? By embracing values, defined early— they’re the subtitles of the chapters you’ve read: honesty, vulnerability, empathy, moving away from emotions, embracing your fear, believing in the good. You can’t do it alone. You have to create a team, strengthen your area of influence. Then connect the bright spots and weave a mesh together. (Location 3867)

Avoid thinking in terms of “us against them.” Stand in someone else’s shoes. And do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Technology has proven that human beings have far more in common than we have differences; (Location 3870)

how fighting back goes from the personal to the political, from individual values to a pyramid for collective action. There are solutions: in the long term, the most important thing is education, so start now; in the medium term, it’s legislation and policy to restore the rule of law in the virtual world— to create a vision of the internet that binds us together instead of tearing us apart. In the short term, now, it’s just us: collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. And that begins with trust. (Location 3884)

# Epilogue

Sometimes you have to skate through life, sliding on the surface because it’s just too hard to feel. So you keep going. Keep busy. Fill the days, hours, and minutes, hoping to come out on the other side. Stopping to try to understand why causes too much pain. (Location 3894)

“What gets our attention is what gives our lives meaning,” I told them. “Where we spend our time determines what we accomplish and what we become good (Location 3905)

You find meaning by choosing where to spend your precious time. “What you remember are the people whose lives you’ve touched and those whose lives have changed yours.” (Location 3930)

# 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov’s 10-Point Plan to Address the Information Crisis

Challenge the extraordinary lobbying machinery, the astroturfing campaigns and recruitment revolving door between big tech companies and European government institutions. (Location 3958)

# Acknowledgments

# Notes

People around the world believed this fake post from a manufactured account and combined with Lavrov’s speech showed the power of bottom-up and top-down efforts to shape reality globally. (Location 4038)

“ Keyboard warriors” was what the Duterte team called their “volunteers.” (Location 4506)

“ Gender in Focus: Tackling Sexism in the News Business— On and Offline,” WAN-IFRA, November 12, 2014, https:// 2014/ 11/ gender-in-focus-tackling-sexism-in-the-news-business-on-and-offline/. (Location 4610)

Julie Posetti, Felix Simon, and Nabeelah Shabbir, “What If Scale Breaks Community? Rebooting Audience Engagement When Journalism Is Under Fire,” Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, October 2019, https:// sites/ default/ files/ 2019-10/ Posetti% 20What% 20if% 20FINAL.pdf. (Location 4622)

Twink Macaraig, “Why I Fight,” Philippine Star, March 24, 2019, https:// lifestyle/ sunday-life/ 2019/ 03/ 24/ 1903779/ why-i-fight. (Location 4787)

Isabel Martinez, “Maria Ressa Brings the Readers. But Here’s How Rappler Makes Them Stay,” The Ken, January 27, 2022, https:// sea/ story/ maria-ressa-brings-the-readers-but-heres-how-rappler-makes-them-stay/. (Location 4966)