Fake News, Regulation and “Digital Literacy” in Southeast Asia


About the Seminar

‘Fake news’ has become a buzzword in the contemporary lexicon. In Southeast Asia there has been significant concern about the so-called rise of ‘hoaxes’ in the public sphere. Due to media reports, government advertising and statements from public officials, there is now significant public awareness of the issue. Southeast Asian governments have implemented a number of initiatives including new ‘anti-fake news’ laws, internet trawling machines, and special police units. Social media companies like Facebook are also providing money to fact-checkers in the region. Whether these initiatives have reduced the amount or flow of disinformation in the Southeast Asian public sphere is questionable.

Understanding how and why ‘hoax news’ spreads in Southeast Asia’s rapidly evolving information society is crucial to explain its proliferation. In particular, I argue that the rise of ‘hoax news’ is a reflection of longer-term socio-political dysfunctions in a region with authoritarian legacies where citizens have learnt to distrust mainstream media and official sources as state propaganda. During Indonesia’s New Order authoritarian rule, for example, the practice of passing on information, rumours, and gossip became a heightened aspect of being an Indonesian citizen, as well as to understand the real story or the extra information. A non-government source, particularly if it is someone you trust, became more believable. In many ways this practice continues in Southeast Asia today, but has simply moved online to personal Whatsapp communication, closed Facebook groups and micro-influencers on Instagram.

Solutions are thus found through improving mainstream media and government credibility, as well as internet access and “digital literacy”. This seminar examines findings from empirical research conducted in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines on disinformation related to politics and elections, health communication, disaster response and efforts in countering violent extremism. The findings resonate with worldwide debates around social media polarisation and ‘echo chambers’, digital literacy initiatives, and how to address rising trends of disinformation.

The seminar is supported by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

About the Speaker

Ross Tapsell is a Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific, specialising in media and culture in Island Southeast Asia. He is the author of Media Power in Indonesia: Oligarchs, Citizens and the Digital Revolution (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017) and co-editor of Digital Indonesia: Connectivity and Divergence (ISEAS Publishing, 2017). He has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, VICE and other many other publications in the Southeast Asian region. He is also on the editorial board of the international scholarly journal Asiascape: Digital Asia. Ross is currently a Visiting Fellow with the Regional Social and Cultural Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.


For registration, please click here. Registration closes on 30 August 2019.


Sep 02 2019


10:00 am - 11:30 am


ISEAS Seminar Room 2