Online Workshop on Social Media and Polarization in Southeast Asia

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About the online workshop

“Polarization” has become a common theme of political commentary around the world, including in Southeast Asia. Increasingly, political discussion seems to have shifted from predictable centrism to competition between ideological extremes. Fringe ideas have found large audiences online as traditional media gatekeepers are disrupted by social media platforms. As the debate about the nature of polarization unfolds, this workshop homes in on social media as a driver of conflict and contentious politics in Southeast Asia. From US-China rivalry to civil society activism and from ISIS propaganda to political disinformation, social media platforms are critical arenas of contestation, with consequences for the politics of the region, both online and off.

Download the programme here.


This webinar series will be delivered online entirely. You can join the webinars at the specified date and time using devices (computer, phone, or tablet) with internet connection.

Please register for each session to receive your unique link for joining the webinars. Limited spaces only, register early to avoid disappointment.

To join the webinar,

1. Install the Zoom client onto your computer or download the app on your mobile device.
2. Set up a Zoom account, using the following link:
3. Click on the unique link in your email.

For the best experience, please mute your microphone. If you have questions for the speakers, please key in your questions via the Q&A feature, stating your name and affiliation. The moderator will field them to the speakers during the Q&A session.

Webinar 1

Geopolitical Rivalry and Social Media Polarization in Southeast Asia

Thursday, 26 November 2020
9.00am – 10.30am (Singapore time)

Read the event highlight here.

Major power competition between the US and China is emerging as a polarization meta-narrative, not just in Southeast Asia but also globally. Some ask whether we are on the cusp of a new Cold War. An increasingly bi-polar world order may be interacting with social media in ways we are only beginning to understand. But influence over tech platforms and the internet is already at the centre of US-China rivalry. This webinar looks at how heightened geopolitical rivalry in Southeast Asia is playing out on social media platforms and being shaped by technology and cyber policy. Ms Elina Noor (Asia Society) examines cyber policy and geopolitical rivalry in Southeast Asia. Mr Dien Nguyen An Luong (ISEAS) analyses how US-China rivalry is influencing social media in Vietnam. Dr William Choong (ISEAS) surveys major power competition across multiple platforms and looks at the future of online political debate in Southeast Asia. Dr Quinton Temby (ISEAS) analyses the impact of China’s rise on social media activism in Thailand and Indonesia. This webinar is moderated by Dr Benjamin Loh, Senior Fellow and Coordinator of ISEAS’ Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme.


Ms Elina Noor
Director, Political-Security Affairs and Deputy Director, Washington, D.C. Office, Asia Society Policy Institute

Cyber Policy in Southeast Asia
Mr Dien Nguyen An Luong
Visiting Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

US-China Rivalry Online in Vietnam

Dr William Choong
Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

US-China Competition in the Social Mediascape
Dr Quinton Temby
Vising Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

China’s Rise and Online Activism in Indonesia and Thailand


Dr Benjamin Loh
Senior Fellow and Coordinator, Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

Webinar 2

Social Media, Activism, and Civil Society in Southeast Asia

Thursday, 26 November 2020
11:30am – 1:00pm (Singapore time)

Read the event highlight here.

Social media has transformed the ability of civil society, activists and non-governmental organisations to challenge traditional power structures. It has never been easier to start a social movement online. But the digital disruption of civil society entails new risks and challenges, including the challenge of movement endurance and cohesion. In this webinar, Dr Nien Yuan Cheng (University of Sydney) examines migrant workers’ online storytelling in Singapore. Mr Hikmawan Saefullah (Padjadjaran University) looks at increasingly online anarchist subcultures in Indonesia. Dr Hilary Oliva Faxon (University of California) presents new research on digital cultures on Facebook in Myanmar. Dr Azly Rahman (independent author) closes with a presentation on recent activism and academic freedom in Malaysia. This webinar is moderated by Mr Dien Nguyen An Luong (ISEAS).


Dr Nien Yuan Cheng
Honorary Associate, University of Sydney

Social Media, Storytelling, and Migrant Workers in Singapore
Mr Hikmawan Saefullah
Lecturer in International Relations, Padjadjaran University

Anarchist Subcultures in Indonesia

Dr Hilary Oliva Faxon
Ciriacy-Wantrup Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley

Beyond the Digital Divide: Studying Facebook in Myanmar
Dr Azly Rahman
Author & Columnist

Academic Freedom and #BlackLivesMatter in Malaysia


Mr Dien Nguyen An Luong
Visiting Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

Webinar 3

Social Media and Extremist Networks in Southeast Asia

Thursday, 26 November 2020
3:00pm – 4:30pm (Singapore time)

Read the event highlight here.

A striking aspect of political polarisation in the digital era is the prominence of extremist messaging on mainstream social media platforms. Militant and fringe networks are locked in a continuous game with platform moderators to evade ever-evolving regulations and to amplify their content. In Southeast Asia, as elsewhere, extremist content shifts rapidly in style and location, from platform to platform. In this webinar, Mr Nathan Shea (The Asia Foundation) presents pioneering research on ISIS messaging on Facebook in the Philippines. Dr Noor Huda Ismail and Ms Nur Dhania (RSIS, NTU and Ruang Obrol) discuss their recent work on violent extremism and deradicalization in Indonesia. Mr Jordan Newton (AIPJ) presents unique research on ISIS subcultures on the Telegram platform. This webinar is moderated by Dr Quinton Temby (ISEAS).


Mr Nathan Shea
Assistant Director, The Asia Foundation

Violent Extremism Online in the Philippines
Dr Noor Huda Ismail
Visiting Fellow, RSIS, NTU

Violent Extremism and Depolarisation

Ms Nur Dhania
Content Producer, Ruang Obrol

Violent Extremism and Depolarisation
Mr Jordan Newton
Consultant, Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice

ISIS Telegram Culture


Dr Quinton Temby
Visiting Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

Webinar 4

Social Media, Polarisation, and Democracy in Southeast Asia

Friday, 27 November 2020
9.00 am – 10.30 am (Singapore time)

Read the event highlight here.

The regulation of online political speech is an increasingly fraught issue for countries in Southeast Asia. Social media provides new opportunities for democratic expression but entails new risks in the form of polarisation, disinformation, and conflict. In this webinar, Ms Jasmine Chia (Thai Enquirer) surveys the recent flowering of Thai youth activism. Dr Abel Da Silva (CESTIL) considers the interaction of social media and recent political crises in Timor Leste. Mr Ravio Patra (Westminster Foundation for Democracy) analyses the implication of cyber policy for democracy in Indonesia. Finally, Mr Samuel Cabbuag (University of the Philippines Diliman) takes stock of the fraught relationship between social media and democracy under President Duterte in the Philippines. This webinar is moderated by Dr Yatun Sastramidjaja (ISEAS).


Ms Jasmine Chia
Contributor, Thai Enquirer

Meme Culture and the Politicisation of Thai Youth
Dr Abel Da Silva
Researcher, Centro de Estudos Estratégicos de Timor-Leste (CESTIL)-RENETIL, Timor-Leste

Social Media in a Crises-stricken Country: Timor-Leste 2017-2020

Mr Ravio Patra
Program Officer, Westminster Foundation for Democracy

Cyber Policy and Democracy in Indonesia
Mr Samuel Cabbuag
Assistant Professor, University of the Philippines Diliman

Social Media and Democracy in the Philippines


Dr Yatun Sastramidjaja
Visiting Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute