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Source: Instagram/ maria_ressa

Social media is a great weapon in the armoury of journalism.

This is according to Maria Ressa of the Philippines, whose online news site Rappler which specialises in conflict reporting, has made its mark on the media landscape in her country.

So much so that she and her site have often drawn the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Ressa was the guest speaker at the Women in News summit at the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan Ifra) congress in Durban on Wednesday and said journalism called for fearless coverage of stories.

The Philippines is presently under martial law, declared by Duterte, over the southern island Mindanao and adjacent Sulu Sea over terrorism claims, while he has also overseen a brutal and deadly crackdown on the drug trade in his country which has seen thousands of people killed.

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“Be fearless. But know your limits,” Ressa told the conference on Wednesday.

“One of the reasons was that as a media company we did not just follow the pack of other media, we thought out of the box. By doing things differently and using online media, this is how media will thrive and how stories will be told, especially if there are restrictions on media.”

Rappler specialises not just in reporting, but also in content marketing, social media engagement, access to crowdsourcing and data and one of the tools they use is a “mood navigator”.

“We have a mood meter for every story and you can track how an event ripples through society. We are feeding off the energy of emotions on social media. Social networks are your families and friends and online they are on steroids because there are no boundaries of space and time. Information flies in the social networks and this impacts on behaviour,” Ressa said.

She urged citizens not to be complacent when issues of corruption arose.

“Most people are apathetic, or just mere observers. But there will always be a small group of people who will take action. This is the ripple effect we see in society and how fast information can spread. In my country I want to help build communities that act when issues arise, and that’s the power of online media, so yes the prayer chains can work if it gets people to act.”

However, Ressa also pointed to the dangers of social media, especially the issue of fake news.

“Previously journalists working at newspapers were the gatekeepers of information, now anybody can use social media, and therein lies the danger, no one is checking what goes out there.”

– African News Agency (ANA)