‘A Thousand Cuts’ Urgently Highlights the Need for a Free Press
Highlighting the work of one of the last free Filipino news websites, ‘A Thousand Cuts’ is a dire warning against online misinformation.
One stat in A Thousand Cuts really stands out: with just under four hours spent online a day, The Philippines has the highest social media usage in the world. This also means that the southeast nation is particularly susceptible to the amplification of fake news across platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. As a result, the rise of populist President Rodrigo Duterte is one of the most clear-cut examples of how these platforms give rise to misinformation and allow authoritarians to consolidate power.
Back in the day, one could rely on good old-fashioned newspapers and media platforms to hold governments to account. But as seen across the world, whether its Russia, Brazil, Hungary, Poland or even in some parts of the USA, local newspaper reporting from the ground up has been decimated, leaving a huge information gap in the middle of civil society.
Thankfully for the Philippines, they have some old-school resistance in the form of Maria Ressa, co-founder of the independent news site Rappler. She is an irrepressibly cheery woman sporting short hair and sharp suit jackets. In her measured and calm criticism of the government, she represents everything that Duterte is not. In scenes of stunning power, we see her face up directly to the President as he brazenly states his desire to kill all drug dealers and lock up journalists that oppose him.
She remains unfazed. Even with dual USA-Filipino citizenship, she refuses to leave the country for fear of her freedom. Whether it’s in editorial meetings, speaking at international conferences, or directly combating those who want her to go away permanently, A Thousand Cuts is a tireless document of her tireless work. Now with the intrepid journalist now facing up to six years in prison on erroneous cyber-libel charges, the film is an active cry for both international solidarity and significant social media reform.
Director Ramona S. Diaz keeps things relatively simple, allowing her subjects to do most of the talking for her; whether it’s the heavy-set men that surround Duterte and echo his dangerous rhetoric, or the, mostly women, journalists and politicians that battle his damaging policies, we get great access to both sides of this potentially bloody political war. These images are often accompanied by headlines underneath, showing us in real-time how important fact-checking and real journalism is in a world so beset by blatant lies.
Ultimately, A Thousand Cuts serves as a dire warning to any democracy that finds traditional reporting replaced by scaremongering on social media networks. After all, Duterte may be the countries’ biggest villain, but the film suggests, without ever mentioning him by name, that the real head of the global snake is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself, who has the power to remove fake news and outright hatred — as Twitter has made small steps to do — but simply chooses not to. With a crucial USA election — and the effects of democracy in the USA has ramifications across the whole world — just around the corner, the message A Thousand Cuts couldn’t ring any clearer.