Dr Ross Tapsell spoke at a Technology and Society seminar series on the rise in fake news or disinformation in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and its implications on mainstream media and government.
REGIONAL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME SEMINAR
Monday, 2 September 2019 – Dr Ross Tapsell spoke at a Technology and Society seminar series on the rise in fake news or disinformation in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and its implications on mainstream media and government. He suggested that the rise of disinformation 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.
Dr Ross Tapsell (right) presented his research that reveals that disinformation has become ubiquitous in all levels of electoral campaigning in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Dr Benjamin Loh moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)
The seminar examined findings from Dr Tapsell’s 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. His research revealed that disinformation has become ubiquitous in all levels of electoral campaigning in these countries. He reported that the creation of disinformation has been increasingly “amateurised” involving not only public relations professionals but also university students. The identities of disinformation creators are also now more effectively camouflaged than before, and disinformation has pushed electoral campaigns to become more identity-driven and emotive.
Disinformation channels were examined during the seminar. These channels include a variety of alternative news sites that carry hyperpartisan content as well as thematic-local news usually on a YouTube video format. Dr Tapsell also examined content carried by micro-influencers on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. According to him, these content can touch on political parody, pop culture, or utilise seductive ‘thirst traps’ to promote and convey disinformation.
Understanding how and why ‘hoax news’ spreads in Southeast Asia’s rapidly evolving information society will be crucial to explain its proliferation, according to Dr Tapsell. Rather than considering these developments of rising disinformation as the “weaponisation of the Internet”, he considered disinformation as an amplification of long-standing information-sharing through technological channels. He noted the tendency for older people to be more susceptible to “hoax news,” indicating the danger of overstating the transformative nature of the Internet on people’s attitudes and behaviours. He also observed that people could succumb to disinformation campaigns regardless of their level of education or degree of Internet access.
Dr Tapsell argued 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 that is trusted, became more believable. According to Dr Tapsell, this practice continues in Southeast Asia today, and has simply moved online to personal Whatsapp communication, closed Facebook groups and micro-influencers on Instagram.
Dr Tapsell opined that the solution to address disinformation cannot be found in overly general anti-“hoax news” laws promulgated in the region. According to him, more efforts should be spent on improving mainstream media and journalistic quality in the region, building trust between the public and official news media. Over a hundred participants attended the seminar. The Q&A session that followed covered topics that ranged from the evolution of media platforms in different countries to concerns over foreign interference in regional elections.
A good turnout for this seminar on fake news and disinformation in Southeast Asia. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)