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Journalist Maria Ressa explains 'How to Stand Up to a Dictator'

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I am Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Our guest today, Maria Ressa, is an international journalist who's widely celebrated around the world. She was Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2018 and last year won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov. But in her home country, the Philippines, Ressa faces multiple criminal charges and regulatory actions, which could shut down Rappler, the online news organization she heads, and land her in jail for decades. Rappler drew the anger of President Rodrigo Duterte, known for his violent campaign against alleged drug users, because the news site did stories about corruption and cronyism and exposed a web of online disinformation networks with ties to Duterte.

Before co-founding Rappler in 2011, Ressa spent many years covering Southeast Asia for CNN, breaking important stories about Islamic terrorist networks. Ressa's story isn't just that of a crusading journalist exposing corruption, though it is that; she's also focused on the role of social media networks, who, she says, are weakening democracy by enabling the rise of online disinformation and hate mobs in the service of authoritarian rulers around the world. Her new memoir is "How To Stand Up To A Dictator: The Fight For Our Future."

Maria Ressa, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

MARIA RESSA: I'm so glad to be here. Thanks for having me again, Dave.

DAVIES: As I said, you are well-known internationally and celebrated in many ways. But in the Philippines, you face serious legal jeopardy. This is a long and painful story. But if you can kind of summarize for us, what have you been charged with and so far convicted of?

RESSA: I don't even know where to begin. You know, the beginning of it, I suppose, was first these charges coming out on social media, the weaponization of social media. And then, a year later, President Duterte came and said the same thing, top down. And then, a week later, we got our first subpoena. And then, shortly after that - that would have been 2017. By 2018, there were 14 investigations. There are three broad buckets - tax evasion, cyber libel, and the other one is securities fraud. When the government tried to shut us down in January, within four months, we dropped 49% of our advertising revenue. So this should have been - we were supposed to have been dead by now. But we're still here, you know? So we keep going.

I guess the part that is very personal to me is that in 2019, the Philippine government issued 10 arrest warrants against me in less than two years. So I am out on bail. And in order to travel, I have to ask the courts that hold what was, at one point, 10, then nine, and now, there are seven criminal charges - for permission to travel.

DAVIES: You know, I have to say that when - and this is not exactly new. But when we read about these charges that followed reporting by your organization, which offended the then-President Duterte and his supporters, it's hard not to conclude that these were politically motivated. I'm not putting those words in your mouth. It's just kind of hard not to see it that way. And I must note, you know, the Philippines does have a constitution modeled more or less on that of the United States. When you were arrested, you were read your rights, right? You had the right to remain silent and get an attorney.

RESSA: Yes.

DAVIES: To what extent do the courts there really give you due process in a consideration of the evidence?

RESSA: That's a fantastic question, and it depends on the moment in time that you ask me. And I continue to appeal to the wisdom of the judges and the justices who hold these charges. But let me put it this way. There were three ways that President Duterte showed his power. The first, which is (non-English language spoken) - (non-English language spoken) means make an example of. And he did that with a business person, someone in politics, and someone in media.

The company, he named shortly after he took office, and the company dropped 50% of its market cap. The senator who was actually investigating him has been in jail since - well, she would be coming up on her seventh year by February - seventh year in prison. She spent her entire term as senator in jail. And then, I have the cautionary tale for journalists. So it is what it is. And the fact that this has happened also shows you where we are. In my case now, this is the first time where I can't pinpoint - like, I can't shoot, like, a straight arrow 'cause it's unclear to me what my restrictions are. I just need to be respectful of the court - also, because if I'm not, the penalty is six years in prison. (Laughter) And so...

DAVIES: I'm wondering how much public anger was generated by the verdicts and the charges against you and whether the international recognition you've received, like the Nobel Peace Prize, have helped your cause among - in the Philippines?

RESSA: I don't think you can see this without the context of social media because social media is really like the fertilizer that set in place that shifted public opinion. You know, when you have information operations on social media the way the Philippines has - we were called the petri dish for information operations by the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, right? Like, if I was attacked online - Rappler was attacked online with information operations a year before President Duterte himself attacked us. And that metanarrative was seeded. So by the time I was actually arrested, while it was shocking, it was seeded as a metanarrative a year earlier.

This is what is so bizarre. And it sounds like a conspiracy theory except that I lived through it. You know, I - when all the attacks online and then these narratives of journalist-equals-criminal, journalist-equals-criminal - and then, when it was attaching to me, I thought, people know my track record. I've been doing this for a long time. But our memories are really short, and social media changed our reality. So it set the stage for the filing of legal charges against us. And by the time that happened, which was about a year later - and now Filipinos doubt it. That's really what needed to happen, you know? That's what information operations do - seed chaos and doubt. And if you don't know what the facts are, then you don't act.

DAVIES: So in effect, there was almost an immunity to getting real information from a lot of the public who were prepared to believe the worst about you.

RESSA: It's - I can't quantify, but I will say that many people believed, for example, that I'm an Indonesian. It was seeded as a metanarrative - she's not Filipino. So, you know, the other part is, she's CIA and a communist. I - it's really shocking all of the things that I supposedly am. And when you're the target of attacks, you can't respond. I did, at the beginning, try to respond, but I was getting an average of 90 hate messages per hour. And it's impossible to respond. There aren't - there are more attacks than hours in the day. And this is what I pointed out to Facebook and to Twitter. You can't expect us to report these attacks. It's exponential lies. So a journalist under attack has no defense.

DAVIES: You know, one of the things that you note is that Cambridge Analytica, the firm that was involved in the big scandal about using data to influence voters in the United States, actually was active in the Philippines, kind of using it as sort of a laboratory. You want to explain this?

RESSA: Think about it like this. Since a hundred percent of Filipinos on the internet are on Facebook, we became what Chris Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, called the petri dish. So Cambridge Analytica tested these tactics of vast manipulation in the Philippines. If it worked, they - and this is Wylie's words, they ported it over to you. We were essentially the guinea pigs.

DAVIES: You in the United States, you mean. Yeah.

RESSA: You in the United States. Yes. And then I think, you know, I don't - it's very common knowledge for us in the Philippines. But America, the country that had the most number of compromised accounts during the Cambridge Analytica scandal was the U.S. But the country with the second most number of compromised accounts was the Philippines. We were the guinea pigs. America was the target.

DAVIES: Apart from the attacks on your credibility, what other kinds of, well, threats and denunciations did you get on this online campaign, you and others at, you know, Rappler, the news organization that you had?

RESSA: Yeah. So this was as early as August of 2016. We were doxxed. There was a group of Duterte supporters who came to the office, scared our team. They called for others to come protest. There were threats to bomb, you know, these threats of physical violence. And at that point, by September or October, 2016, I increased security because online violence leads to real-world violence. And this is when I began to see, OK, so if they called for protests outside and they got as far as our office - inside our office, will the police come and stop it? And at one point we weren't sure.

So there - but, you know, I guess UNESCO and the International Center for Journalists did a big data case study of the attacks against me. They took almost half a million social media attacks. And they quantified that 60% were meant to tear down my credibility. But 40% was meant to tear down my spirit. Neither of those happened, I hope. (Laughter) I'm knocking on wood, right? But it did change the way I lived.

DAVIES: How did it change the way you lived?

RESSA: Increased security. It took more effort to believe in the good, which I do. It took more effort to do the stories. And I'd say - here's the positive aspect of it, right? I wasn't the only one under attack in Rappler. And Rappler is about a hundred people. We're - we just became - we hit 10 years. We're 10 years old January this year. So my gosh, we're going to be 11 by January next year. But it's 63% women. And our median age is 23 years old. So when our younger reporters came under attack, I became far more protective of our team.

And within a short period of time, we increased our security six times, seven times, because at some point it became very clear that online violence is real-world violence. And, you know, in your introduction, you talked about the attacks of President Duterte and Facebook. I think, by 2016, I was calling for an end to impunity, impunity of Rodrigo Duterte and this brutal drug war and impunity of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. They go hand in hand. One could not have happened without the other.

DAVIES: We need to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Maria Ressa. She is CEO of the Philippine news site Rappler and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her new book is "How To Stand Up To A Dictator: The Fight For Our Future." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOACIR SANTOS' "EXCERPT NO. 1")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with Maria Ressa. She is the co-founder and CEO of the Philippines investigative news site Rappler and winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize. Her new memoir is called "How To Stand Up To A Dictator: The Fight For Our Future."

I want to just take a moment and talk about Rodrigo Duterte. I mean, a lot of people have heard about his very violent campaign against alleged drug users and dealers. You actually have - you dealt with him many years ago when he was the mayor of Davao, if I'm pronouncing the name right. And you spoke to him when he was running for president. Give us a sense of his style, the kind of rhetoric he would employ, how he spoke to you.

RESSA: This was October, 2015, right before the May, 2016, elections. He hadn't yet declared he would run. But it was really clear that he was very top line. He focused on crime. He focused on drugs. He said that he would get rid of corruption. He made a lot of promises. He also said that he governs through fear. He's now under investigation by the International Criminal Court. And...

DAVIES: For what?

RESSA: Well, the brutal drug war. You know, what you would - what you called alleged drug dealers, you know, the first casualty in the Philippines' battle for truth is exactly how many people were killed in this drug war, because from the time he took office in July of 2016 to January, 2017, the Philippine police itself rolled out that they had killed 7,000 people. And then, I think, over those succeeding months, they began to realize that that was working against them. So in plain view, they began to roll back the numbers. Part of the reason Rappler was targeted is we kept track of all the numbers.

And so at one point after January, 2017, which is when Amnesty International said at least 7,000 people killed, the Philippine police rolled it back to 2,500 - and then down to, like, 2021, where there were only 5,000 killed, when in December of 2018, our commission on human rights said there were at least 27,000 killed. Did you just get dizzy when I was reeling out these numbers? That is the first casualty in our battle for facts, battle for truth. And that was done in plain sight.

DAVIES: Rappler, you know, the news organization that you co-founded did a lot of reporting on this and questioned whether, you know, those who had died in these encounters with police had resisted, or exactly what the circumstances were, and Duterte, in some cases, said some sort of ominous things about the vulnerability of reporters, that they - well, the possibility of assassination. What was the context of this remark, and what was it he exactly said?

RESSA: He said a lot of things. In that case, he - in what you mentioned, he said, just because you're a reporter does not mean you can't be assassinated - something along those lines. But this is Rodrigo Duterte. You know, this is also - in many ways, he was the perfect leader for the age of social media, when threats, when violence, when lies spread faster than facts. President Duterte's words are viral on social media. Social media helped elect President Duterte. And he continued. He and his government continued to use social media up until the end. But you can replace Rodrigo Duterte with, say, Donald Trump or Viktor Orban or any of the digital authoritarians who've used social media for greater popularity.

DAVIES: You know, if people want to get a sense of you and a lot of these events, there's a documentary. I think it's called "A Thousand Cuts." Do I have the title right?

RESSA: That's correct.

DAVIES: ...Referring to a thousand cuts of - against democracy. And you can see Duterte, and you can see the midterm election campaigns at which a lot of these contending forces went at one another. And one of the things that you hear in that documentary that I'm sure that you have heard a lot is from some people in poor communities saying, well, the fact is that our neighborhoods are safer. Our kids can play outside. Is there any independent evidence that all of the violence did actually make communities safer?

RESSA: That's a great question. And you can see, again, even in the numbers - right? - the numbers have been shifting. So it's unclear exactly. Perception is in some communities that that has happened. But whether it mimicked reality or not - that's also unclear to us. What I can tell you is reporting during that time period - you know, right after President Duterte was sworn into office, within hours, the first killing happened - just a short distance away from the palace. And then every night we had one reporter and one camera team that was out at night, and they would come home with at least eight dead bodies - videos of at least eight dead bodies. And, you know, the bodies would be bound, gagged, and there would be a cardboard on top. It's like Gotham City but worse 'cause it's reality. And that's when we began to realize that our world was changing.

DAVIES: Rodrigo Duterte is no longer the president. The president in the Philippines is limited to one six-year term. The new president is Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is the son of, you know, the legendary dictator of the Philippines for so long. Did things change with the administration, either in terms of overall policy or the cases against you?

RESSA: Ah. That's a tough question. So let me first say, in February 2018, President Duterte banned our palace reporter - and me, even though I don't go to the palace - from the palace. So we went and filed a case at the Supreme Court, which is still at the Supreme Court. And we weren't able to cover President Duterte anywhere. At a certain point, it went beyond the palace to anywhere in the Philippines to anywhere around the world. With President Marcos, even saying that is like a "Back To The Future" moment, right?

So 36 years after the People Power revolt sparked these movements for democracy in all other parts of the world and Ferdinand Marcos, the father, was the kleptocrat who stole $10 billion in 1986 dollars; his family goes into exile in Hawaii; his son - only son and namesake - is voted overwhelmingly for president. And have things changed? In many ways, this president has shown he cares about what the world thinks. In his first hundred days, he has traveled more than any president in the history of the Philippines. And he went to the U.N. General Assembly. And during that time, a big change for Rappler is that he took our reporter with him.

So despite that, though - that's a good, positive thing, I think, for us - but the other part is our cases also began to move. So every day, the case for the shutdown of Rappler, the case for cyber libel all moved and moved to the negative. So each day, I wake up, and, you know, we could face shutdown. Yet we just keep doing our jobs.

DAVIES: We need to take another break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Maria Ressa. She is CEO of the Philippine news service Rappler and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her new book is "How To Stand Up To A Dictator: The Fight For Our Future." She'll be back to talk more after this short break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FRESH CUT ORCHESTRA'S "THE MOTHERS' SUITE, MOVEMENT III - RITUAL OF TAKE")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. Our guest is Maria Ressa, co-founder and CEO of the Philippines' investigative news site Rappler and winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize. Ressa faces criminal charges from the Philippine government, which were filed after Rappler published stories about public corruption and online disinformation campaigns connected to the government's supporters. The Nobel committee called Ressa a fearless defender of freedom of expression. She has a new memoir called "How To Stand Up To A Dictator: The Fight For Our Future."

This book is also about your life. And I want to - it's an interesting story. You were born in the Philippines and your dad died at age 1, and then your mom left to go work in the United States. And until age 9, if I have this right, you lived in Manila with your paternal grandmother. What do you remember of those early years?

RESSA: Until I was 10 years old. Yeah. I went to an all-girls Catholic school. I remembered the kind of - its typical rote learning. I was I was a kid who tried to do well. I wasn't - my parents weren't there. So we kind of - we were different. But then when I turned 10, my mother came back, and she had just gotten married to my Italian American stepfather. Now I call him my dad. They came back and got us.

And in the book I talked about how it was like a kidnapping, because one day it was an ordinary day in class, and the next day it changed our lives - my sister and I, my sister who's two years younger. So I remembered looking at - hearing about America and thinking that America's streets were paved with gold. You know, you - when you're 10 years old, you believe a lot of things. And then one day we get on a plane, and I see snow for the first time. And we land in JFK Airport.

DAVIES: Right. And you end up living in Toms River, New Jersey. Did it seem like a surreptitious departure? I mean, you didn't say goodbye to your grandmother, I guess. I mean, you describe it as a kidnapping. What did it feel like when you were 10 to be suddenly spirited away to New Jersey?

RESSA: Like one life ended and another began. And I remembered asking my mom, you know, can we go back? I remembered in the car when she took us out of school thinking that night, maybe I should run away. It was a very confusing time. And when I landed, when my family landed in the United States, English wasn't my first language. So my parents, who were then, I guess, just turning 30, they decided that it was important we go to good public schools. And so even though they worked in New York City, they chose Toms River, New Jersey, which is at best...

DAVIES: Yeah, that's a long way.

RESSA: ...An hour-and-45-minute ride. Oh, my God. Like, Dave, would you do that? Like, to give your kids - my dad said he didn't want us to grow up in inner city schools. And in order to make that happen and to get us in good public schools, they drove four hours a day. I - this is why I love my parents. You know, it's like they sacrificed for us to get good educations.

DAVIES: I want to begin by just talking a bit about you forming Rappler, the news site that you have. I guess you started this in 2011, maybe went live 2012, with three other women. Was it hard to get financing and get taken seriously when it was a bunch of women putting this together?

RESSA: You know, the opposite. Part of it was because we came from the largest network in the Philippines. So I had done a lot of - I was testing these ideas in the - with the largest broadcaster. I ran the news organization - about a thousand journalists. And then I realized that the very things that made legacy news organizations successful were the very reasons why they could not succeed in the digital age. It was just, you know, you're too caught up in legacy systems.

So we decided, you know, we have to explore the internet. The internet, to me, was the future. And it was - if it worked, I figured then we can prove something. But if it didn't work, then we can go back to our old jobs. All four of us had long careers in journalism. We came from the trenches. And we raised the money for Rappler. And it wasn't - at that point, I raised $2 million. That was enough for a startup. That's how we began. And the elevator pitch was very simple. We build communities of action, and the food we feed our communities is journalism.

DAVIES: When you started Rappler, this news service, one of the things you note is that the population of the Philippines had already become remarkably attached to digital technology. Different from a lot of places in that way, wasn't it?

RESSA: Yeah. Look, we were the texting capital of the world before this, the SMS capital of the world. And then we became known as the social media capital of the world. And by January 2021, for six years in a row, Filipinos spent the most time online and on social media globally. A hundred percent of Filipinos on the internet today are on Facebook. Facebook literally is our internet.

DAVIES: So how did Rappler use technology in an innovative way in your reporting? You said people - you could tell Rappler reporters on a scene because of the equipment that they had, right?

RESSA: Yeah. I was such a fan of this. And I realize now, in retrospect, it makes a reporter's life that much harder to write. Look, what we did is we found instead of using the very expensive broadcast equipment tech, digital shrunk it so that it's affordable. We could fight against the top broadcasting groups and be first on the scene using mobile phones. And this is before you had Facebook Live. What we did was we actually created an OB van for IP satellites. Instead of using satellite - you know, the kind that you would need to pay for, we used IPs.

DAVIES: IPs, that's - what? - internet protocol.

RESSA: Internet protocol. Correct. So we actually - you know, so, like, an OB van would cost $1,000,000 to buy. We created an IP satellite van for $100,000 - like, literally built it on an Isuzu chassis. And then we built it like an OB van, except that the transmission out is IP. It was incredible. And we could go live anywhere in the Philippines. That innovation lasted maybe about three years until Facebook Live and YouTube Live made it all irrelevant. But we still have the van with us.

DAVIES: Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Maria Ressa. She is CEO of the Philippines news site Rappler and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her new memoir is called "How To Stand Up To A Dictator: The Fight For Our Future." We'll continue our conversation after this break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Maria Ressa. She is co-founder and CEO of the Philippines investigative news site Rappler. She also was the winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize. Her new memoir is called "How To Stand Up To A Dictator: The Fight For Our Future."

You know, you write that when you organized Rappler, this new site you had, which was a very high-tech operation, that you saw great positive potential for social media, for meaningful journalism and social change. And over time, a darker side to it emerged. And one of the things that you did was that you tracked - not you personally, but the organization - tracked how disinformation was spread in the Philippines particularly to support Rodrigo Duterte, who was running for president, and people in his camp.

I mean, it seems that what you were discovering was that social media platforms, like Facebook, have discovered that people respond to sharply emotional messages. And so the algorithms give them more of that - anger, hatred, resentment - which, in turn, brings more engagement, which is what their economic model is based on. And it - you observed that this was allowing people who were telling lies that were destructive and poisonous to democracy to spread faster than truth.

The interesting thing is that you actually had conversations with Facebook executives about this, right? You met with a bunch of them. Did they get it? What did they say?

RESSA: Rappler was essentially an alpha partner of Facebook. We knew Facebook in the Philippines better than Facebook did. And I went to them with the data, hoping that they would give me more data and fix it. I thought it would be an easy fix 'cause in 2016, it was alarming to see this kind of, you know, incitement of hate. In 2017, I was one of about a dozen startup founders that Mark Zuckerberg met with. And, you know, I was trying to get him to come to the Philippines to see how powerful Facebook was. And at that point, 97% of Filipinos were there. And that's what I told him. I said, you know, you really have to come 'cause 97% of Filipinos on the internet are on Facebook. So he started frowning. And I thought, OK, I must have been a little too pushy. And then, he looked at me. And he said, Maria, where are the other 3%?

DAVIES: (Laughter).

RESSA: I think that was the problem, right? They were so focused on market share, their profits, their goal for the business, that they forgot to look at the social harms. I also don't think it's a coincidence that they do not tell the difference between fact and fiction. It doesn't have any business or economic benefits to doing that. So at this point, you don't even have facts. So what did they do? They outsourced it. They gave - it became a fact-checking network that was doing this. But it was never integral to the product by design. Social media divides and radicalizes, and this is what we're seeing in the world today.

DAVIES: You write that, at one point, Zuckerberg wanted Facebook to start to really focus on weeding out offensive content. And you said, you're missing the point. It's - the problem isn't content; it's distribution. What did you mean?

RESSA: Because so much of the debate centers on content when that isn't the problem. Doesn't matter if your crazy neighbor talks about a conspiracy theory. You'll still like your crazy neighbor, and you listen. But it becomes different when that's the front page of your town newspaper. Imagine, the crazy things now make it to the front page. That is what goes viral. And that's the world we live in. Doesn't matter if it's real or not as long as it captures your attention. So it is your amygdala that decides, right? If you get angry, you'll share it.

And this is the - I mean, look, there is a - E.O. Wilson, who studied emergent behavior in ants, said that our greatest crisis that we face is our Paleolithic emotions, our medieval institutions, and our godlike technology. That godlike technology manipulated us to the point that the very systems of democracy that gave rise to this is now at the verge of failure.

DAVIES: You know, at the end of the book, you kind of ask the big question, which is, what do we do about this? I mean, now that you've - it's apparent how harmful and poisonous this can be for democratic institutions. You know, in the United States, I mean, tens of millions of people believe made-up stories about a stolen election despite plenty of fact-checking that has been published debunking a lot of these stories. You think you have some strategies that might be effective? I mean, this is a little complicated, but share some of these ideas with us.

RESSA: In the short term, we decided, as we were walking into our presidential elections, that we would try to figure out what a whole-of-society approach to civic engagement could look like. And we created a four-layer, facts-first pyramid - four different layers. The bottom layer are 16 news organizations - the first time news groups worked together. You know, I've been trying since 2016, but we finally all work together. And that is the supply of fact checks.

But as you know, fact checks are really boring. They don't get wide distribution on social media. So that leads to the second layer. It's called the mesh - 115, 116 different civil society groups - NGOs, human rights organizations, climate change groups were there - business, the church. The Philippines is Asia's largest Roman Catholic nation. And the goal of the mesh layer is to share those boring fact checks, but to add emotion because emotion is what moves it through distribution. And what we found when we did that was that inspiration spreads as far as anger. The third layer are academic institutions. Eight of them total that took the data from the first two and every week told Filipinos how we were being manipulated, who was winning, who was losing, what were the media narratives being seeded? And then finally, the last layer, layer four, is rule of law. It's legal organizations from the left to the right in the Philippines, from the free legal group to the integrated bar of the Philippines to the Philippine Bar Association.

They filed, in less than three months, more than 21 cases, tactical and strategic, that helped protect the three layers. It worked. We were able to - it was the most successful attempt to try to take over the center of our information ecosystem. We mapped it. But more than that, within two weeks of launching this facts-first pyramid, the Philippine government - the office of the solicitor general filed a petition at the supreme court against Rappler and our commission on elections, because we were working with them at that point. They said that fact-checking is prior restraint. They tried to stop us from fact-checking. It almost made me laugh.

DAVIES: Heavens (laughter).

RESSA: Yeah. That's exactly the reaction I had.

DAVIES: To kind of summarize here, it sounds like what you're proposing is that news organizations need to overcome some of their competitive instincts and work together when there is important fact-checking to be done, connect them to other organizations in a way that puts energy and emotion into it and get that out there.

RESSA: Think about it like this. Like, if you don't have integrity of facts, you cannot have integrity of elections. And ultimately, what that means is that these elections will be swayed by information warfare. I mean, you know, it's funny. Americans actually look at the midterms. And they say, well, it wasn't as bad as it could be. Death by a thousand cuts - it's still bad. And if we follow, you know, what - the trend that we're seeing, if nothing significant changes in our information ecosystem, in the way we deliver the news, we will elect more illiberal leaders democratically in 2023, in 2024.

And what they do is they crumble institutions of democracy in their own countries, like you've seen in mine. But they do more than that. They ally together globally. And what they do is, at a certain point, the geopolitical power shift globally will change. Democracy will die. That point is 2024. We must figure out what civic engagement, what we do as citizens today, to reclaim, to make sure democracy survives.

DAVIES: I want to come back to where we started, talking about what you are facing. I mean, for many, many years now, I mean, you and your organization have faced criminal charges, regulatory actions, arrests, trials, appeals. How do you maintain your optimism?

RESSA: Because I know that whether I go to jail or not will depend on what I do today. And I have to have faith. But I guess part of it is, I don't think I have a choice, you know? It's like, the baton was handed to me in my nation as the head of a news organization at a difficult moment in time. And I could either drop it or hand it to the next generation. I am going to hand it to the next generation.

DAVIES: Maria Ressa, I wish you good fortune and good luck. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

RESSA: Thank you.

DAVIES: Maria Ressa is CEO of the Philippines news site Rappler and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her new book is "How To Stand Up To A Dictator: The Fight For Our Future." Coming up, our book critic Maureen Corrigan shares her list of the 10 best books of 2022. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA'S "GOOD 'SWING' WENCESLAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Dave Davies is a guest host for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.