At the height of the social media threats and attacks on Rappler over the past two years, Maria Ressa, co-founder, chief executive, and executive editor of the online news site, received 90 personal attacks an hour coming to her email, social profiles and messenger.
On 6 June, Ressa was awarded The Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom award of WAN-IFRA, recognising her determination to uphold the values of a free press in the face of intense pressure.
Rappler, the leading social-first news organisation in the Philippines, has been targeted by an online campaign to discredit its journalism since the 2016 election of President Rodrigo Duterte.
"This propaganda on social media was meant not just to mislead our people. It is meant to overwhelm and attack journalists at a deeper, more damaging, psychological level," said Ressa in her acceptance speech at the ceremony in Portugal.
"This is a new threat. Where in the past, you were thrown in jail, now, the prison is inside the walls of Facebook... and in our heads."
Social platforms played a powerful role in the 2016 election in the Philippines, and Rappler’s coverage of issues including the war on drugs, police brutality and human rights abuses have made the organisation a target of abuse online in what Ressa calls the weaponisation of social media.
Faced with a barrage of rape and death threats, as well as lawsuits, the Rappler team has felt the full force of digital efforts to silence journalism – and has learned that good journalism in this environment is also bad for business, Ressa said.
The worst attacks have not been from bots, they come from real men, @mariaressa says about her experience of unrelenting, sexualised online harassment (something she unpacks here for @unesco: https://t.co/1vVFnniin6)— Julie Posetti (@julieposetti) June 6, 2018
"You don’t really know who you are until you’re forced to fight to defend it…
"We at Rappler decided that when we look back at this moment a decade from now, we will have done everything we could: we did not duck, we did not hide."
Free daily newsletter
- Po.et is working on building new tools to re-empower freedom of the press using blockchain
- Russian newspaper editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov receives Golden Pen of Freedom award
- Journalism behind bars: Vice and Al Jazeera advocating for freedom of the press
- Journalism is not a crime: Supporting press freedom by advocating for imprisoned journalists
- IFJ issues safety advice for journalists covering Baku 2015