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THE WEEK|October 31, 2021
Maria Ressa, Rappler and the insidious world of social media
ANIRUDH MADHAVAN

In 2014, a keen-eyed desk hand-corrected a typo in an article on the Philippine news website Rappler. Six years later, its CEO Maria Ressa was convicted of cyber libel, and the case hinged on that correction.

The website had, in 2012, published an article that linked a Filipino businessman to illegal activities. Ressa was charged under the Cybercrime Prevention Act, which came into effect months after the article was published; the prosecution, however, claimed that the fixing of the typo meant that the article was republished.

It was not the first time Ressa—now a Nobel Peace Prize winner—had felt the wrath of the Rodrigo Duterte government. Her counsel Amal Clooney had told her that, adding up all the charges against her, Ressa could be looking at around a century in jail.

Ressa, having headed the CNN bureaus in Indonesia and the Philippines, launched Rappler in 2012 alongside a handful of Filipino journalists.

She had earlier spent years covering the rise of terrorism in Southeast Asia, and wrote Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center in 2003. She then headed the news division of the Filipino media company ABS-CBN, but left in 2010. In her next book, From Bin Laden to Facebook: 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism (2013), she studied terrorism’s new battleground—the internet and social media. This was also the time she was brainstorming to launch Rappler, and her body of work became more and more entwined with Facebook and the lot.

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