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Mitigating disinformation in Southeast Asian elections: Report

21 May 2020

Despite new legal, technical, social, and educational efforts to mitigate fake news, digital disinformation has become further entrenched in electoral processes in the Southeast Asian countries of Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

A new report published by the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence (NATO StratCom COE) summarises key trends of political disinformation observed during a series of elections in all three countries last year. The report provides a regional assessment of election-related social media manipulation and interventions with the aim of mitigating future risks in a global context.

Co-authored by Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Dr Ross Tapsell and Associate Professor of Global Digital Media at the University of Massachusetts—Amherst, Dr Jonathan Corpus Ong, the report highlights how state actors and government legislators have been directly responsible for producing disinformation themselves.

“Our work promotes greater transparency in social media campaigning during elections, and Southeast Asia is front and centre of these debates because of user growth and rising influence of disinformation production, which includes state-sponsored initiatives,” Dr Tapsell said. 

“This will be crucial in the US elections later this year, and will also need to be addressed much more thoroughly in Australia as well.”

In their report, Dr Tapsell and Dr Ong identify disinformation narratives, work models and innovations observed during the 2019 elections in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. They critically examine the different approaches of all three countries in mitigating disinformation, specifically in regards to government regulation and fake news laws, election commission campaign regulations, social media platform bans, and third-party fact-checking partnerships.

This report comes out of an initial collaboration between Dr Tapsell and Dr Ong as a part of the Supporting the Rules-Based Order in Southeast Asia (SEARBO) research project by the ANU Department of Political and Social Change within the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, and funded by DFAT. Their initial research focused on the 2019 Philippines mid-term elections and was conducted alongside Associate Professor at the University of Canberra, Nicole Curato and a team of Manila-based researchers.

This new NATO StratCom COE report includes insights from this initial research project, as well as research separately conducted by Dr Ong and Dr Tapsell on the 2019 Indonesia and Thailand national elections. 

Read the full report here.

Image: Ink markers for voters at the 2019 Indonesian election. Source: Ikhlasul Amal/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)





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