While detailing the profound dangers of today’s digital landscape, Nobel Peace Prize winner, journalist, and author Maria Ressa ultimately delivered a hopeful message during her talk at Colgate on Saturday, Oct. 28.
“We're living in a time where the ground under our feet is churning. And part of that is because of that god-like technology,” Ressa explained, referencing sociobiologist E. O. Wilson. “But the other part is, we can control our paleolithic emotions. We can remember the goodness of humanity. We can have empathy.”
Ressa’s visit was part of The Kershner Family Series Global Leaders at Colgate, as well as a highlight of Colgate’s annual Family Weekend, held Oct. 27–29, 2023. In a conversation moderated by Associate Professor of History Alexander Karn, Ressa shared stories from her early life in the Philippines and the United States, her experiences as an immigrant at Princeton, and her career as a journalist with CNN and later Rappler, the online news site she co-founded in 2012.
As Rappler’s CEO, Ressa worked to expose President Rodrigo Duerte’s murderous war on drugs that killed more than 7,000 people in 2016 and 2017. As a result of her journalism, she has faced multiple charges and was convicted of violating the Philippines’ cyber libel laws in June 2020. She is currently out on bail.
Her investigation into Duerte’s presidency and her subsequent criminal prosecution were the subjects of her 2022 book, How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future, which was chosen as Colgate’s 2023 Community Read.
Throughout her talk, Ressa reinforced the importance of speaking truth to power and explained why she has devoted her career to studying the impact of disinformation — and the danger it poses to democracy.
“A lie pounded a million times becomes a fact … If we do not fix our information ecosystem, the world will tip,” she said. “This could be the tipping point for the end of democracy.”
Before the Global Leaders event, Ressa met with students for an hour-long question-and-answer session, where she cautioned students to be aware of social media algorithms and their manipulative nature.
“The only thing you can control in the world is yourself. That’s what I try to do. How can I take my own fears and be constructive about them? How can we use what we’re afraid of to become stronger?” Ressa said. “The one thing social media forgets to tell you is that people are basically good.”
Ressa’s visit was a highlight of a Family Weekend that included various events for parents and students, including opportunities to attend classes. The weekend’s schedule featured several performances by Contemporaneous, the New York City-based ensemble completing a three-year residency in Colgate’s music department. Parents and students also enjoyed an improv comedy show at the Palace Theater, hosted by Broken Lizard alumni Jay Chandrasekhar ’90 and Kevin Heffernan ’90 and featuring Colgate’s Charred Goosebeak student organization.
A Family Weekend tradition, Colgate’s a cappella groups performed for a lively crowd at Memorial Chapel on Friday evening. Later, guests enjoyed the annual ALANA Multicultural Fashion Show, which highlighted the diversity of cultures on campus.
On Saturday, in addition to a number of athletic events and academic open houses throughout the day, guests and students learned about Colgate’s recently revised Liberal Arts Core Curriculum in a faculty panel discussion.
Interactive events, such as a printmaking workshop with Colgate museum ambassadors and a waltz lesson from the Colgate Ballroom Dancers, were also popular among students and their guests.
See more photos from Family Weekend 2023 on Flickr.