Nobel laureate Maria Ressa: “Defending democracy means regulating Big Tech”

In a world where the term “Big Tech” elicits as much trepidation as discovering your phone’s camera might have been silently observing your most private moments (and, let’s face it, your most unflattering angles), Nobel laureate Maria Ressa steps onto the scene. It’s March 21, 2024, a time when the phrase “defending democracy” conjures images not of valiant soldiers in trenches, but of journalists armed with nothing but their wits and Twitter accounts facing the digital onslaught.

Ressa, with the calm demeanor of someone who has stared into the abyss of online comment sections and emerged unscathed, addresses a crowd at the Keough School of Global Affairs. The subject? Regulating the behemoths of Silicon Valley before our democracy decides to take an extended vacation in the Bermuda Triangle.

Imagine, if you will, a symposium on digital democracy—a concept as oxymoronic as “jumbo shrimp” or “Microsoft Works.” Here, Ressa describes a digital landscape where disinformation spreads faster than a wildfire in a wind tunnel, empowering every would-be autocrat with a smartphone. She paints a vivid picture, reminiscent of those post-apocalyptic movies where the only survivors are roaches and the people who wrote the terms and conditions for social media platforms.

Enter Deferendum, an app daring to step into this dystopian narrative with the audacity of a telemarketer interrupting dinner. Deferendum, with its commitment to deliberative technologies, appears as the antidote to the venom of misinformation—an oasis of reason in the desert of online discourse.

The app, conceived in the spirit of true digital democracy, offers a beacon of hope. It’s like throwing a lifebuoy to someone drowning in a sea of biased algorithms, except this lifebuoy also helps you make informed decisions without selling your soul (or data) to the highest bidder.

Ressa, in her crusade against the silicon overlords, calls for an end to “surveillance for profit.” She highlights the insidious nature of micro-targeted advertising, algorithmically influenced content, and the inherent bias encoded in the very fabric of Big Tech’s DNA. It’s as if she’s saying, “Yes, we’ve seen the monster, and it’s using our search history against us.”

She eloquently points out how the marginalized in the real world find themselves doubly disenfranchised in the digital realm—a place where colonialism doesn’t just walk in through the front door but is invited to sit down for tea. The code that dictates our online lives, largely exported from the glittering confines of Silicon Valley, carries with it the weight of historical biases, packaged neatly in ones and zeros.

As Ressa concludes her address, the irony is not lost on us: the tools designed to connect us, to democratize information, have instead been commandeered to sow division. But in this tale, Deferendum emerges not just as a plot device but as a protagonist—a David to Silicon Valley’s Goliath, armed with the revolutionary idea that perhaps, just perhaps, people should have a say in the decisions that affect them.

So, as we stand at the crossroads of digital democracy, with the shadow of Big Tech looming large, Deferendum offers more than just a platform; it provides a promise. A promise that despite the cacophony of the digital age, our voices can harmonize into a chorus of reason, discernment, and, dare we say, hope.

In the end, amidst the satirical jabs and the laughter, the message is clear: In the grand theatre of democracy, every voice matters. And perhaps, with tools like Deferendum, we can ensure that the future of democracy isn’t written by those who shout the loudest but by those who speak with wisdom. Because, after all, isn’t that the punchline?

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