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Maria Ressa, chief executive of the Filipino investigative news site Rappler, toldThe Independent that Duterte’s populist rhetoric is “appealing” in the same way Hitler’s was.
The prominent journalist said “lies laced with anger and hate” circulate “faster and further” than facts on social media as she warned Duterte’s rise had partly been fuelled by Facebook.
Ressa, who is facing up to 100 years in prison on charges campaigners have branded an assault on press freedom, said: “The rhetoric is appealing as Hitler’s was, because populism and digital authoritarianism is enabled by social media.
“Duterte was not only able to harness people who believed in his populist rhetoric. He was able to grow it. Firstly, Facebook has enabled the rise of Duterte.
“Secondly, Facebook has enabled the breakdown of facts and has polarised our society even more. Before Duterte we didn’t disagree on facts. We all agreed.”
President Duterte once compared himself to Hitler, when he was reported as saying in 2016 that he wanted to “slaughter” drug addicts.
Ms Ressa, who has spent nearly 20 years working as a lead investigative reporter in southeast Asia for CNN, argued misogyny and attacks on the LGBT+ community “go hand in hand” with the rise of fascism.
“It is very similar to the same things we lived through before,” Ms Ressa added. “These types of things where you turn things against each other have been fast-tracked by our information ecosystem.”
She has won a slew of prestigious awards, and her investigative team uncovered a network of 26 Facebook accounts pushing false information which reached three million users ahead of the election Duterte won in 2016.
The team stumbled across a network of fake accounts disseminating erroneous, baseless news, spearheaded by the Filipino state.
Duterte’s campaign created online distribution networks that attack journalists or politicians holding him to account or people who question his drug war, Ms Ressa added.
The journalist, who has nine criminal cases involving cyber-libel charges pending against her, and 10 warrants for her arrest, has been bombarded by vitriolic misogynistic hate online, including rape and death threats.
Unesco, the UN cultural agency which gave Ms Ressa its annual press freedom prize earlier this year, said she previously received an average of more than 90 hate messages an hour on Facebook.
Ms Ressa added: “Almost half a million social media posts have attacked me. 60 per cent were tearing down my credibility. That is the goal. Forty per cent were tearing me down. It was sexist. It was misogynistic. It was dehumanising.
“I’ve been called every animal you can think of. I’ve had my face plastered on top of human genitals. It is barbaric this stuff is allowed. And this is the stuff I wake up to.”
She said it was an attempt to “pound the target to silence” and “to intimate and harass” people so they “shut up” as she warned online trolling generates a “fake bandwagon effect” which in turn “makes people think lies are facts.”
The journalist, who is being represented by well-known human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, added: “I have eczema – really dry skin – if I don’t get enough sleep, you can see it on my face.
“They started calling me scrotum face. They took my face and put it on male genitals. When I showed this to my German friend she said this is actually what the Nazis did.
“It is a dehumanising thing. It is bad. We already lived through this before. Now to allow the social media platforms to let these things happen again in plain sight is criminal.”
Ms Ressa said the “trumped-up charges” she is currently facing are a politically charged reaction to Rappler’s investigations into Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, which has spawned thousands of killings carried out by the police.
Duterte has previously labelled Rappler a “fake news outlet”.
Ms Ressa said the government filed the ninth arrest warrant against her last November before filing its 10th warrant against her in January – adding the government previously unfairly detained her overnight when they it have released her on bail immediately.
She added: “Then when I came out the next morning and posted bail that is when I realised my god, this is abusive. This violates my rights as a citizen.
“For me as a journalist, that was a turning point, that was when I realised, ‘Oh my god I don’t have to interview anyone else, this is just blatantly wrong.’
“The only way a journalist fights back is by shining the light but imagine if to do the story you are the story. That is the weird place I was in. I could go to jail for more than 100 years. All I’m doing right now is laughing because that’s the only way you deal with ludicrous situations. You take it a day at a time.”
Ms Ressa, a vocal critic of Duterte’s leadership, called for social media platforms to be regulated as she warned they “enable” the attacks she is subjected to and pave the way for a “guilty verdict for a ludicrous Kaffka-esque situation”.
Rebecca Vincent, director of international campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, told The Independent that Ms Ressa is “in and out of court nearly every day on different cases”.
She added: “This is used to harass her and to distract from her journalism because it impacts her journalism and work. It has been a significant burden on her. There is always this threat of potential arrest. She leaves her home with bail money just in case.
“Her case is so emblematic of the whole fight for press freedom and the fight against disinformation and the fight for democracy. She has endured almost more online abuse than almost anybody I’ve met.”
She said the abuse Ms Ressa has suffered is more vitriolic than most cases she has seen around the world – adding: “In person she is fighting in court, online she is attacked by armies of trolls.”
Ms Vincent argued Duterte’s government is “clearly threatened” by the fact Rappler has “exposed truths” Duterte “wants to keep hidden” such as the “human cost” of the “war on drugs”.
“They are threatened by the fact they cannot control or influence her,” she added.