Mitigating Disinformation in Southeast Asian Elections | StratCom

Ong, Jonathan Corpus; Tapsell, Ross

In 2019, a series of elections in the Southeast
Asian countries of Indonesia, the Philippines,
and Thailand highlighted the salience of
digital media in political campaigns and
insidious modes of electoral manipulation.
Despite new legal, technical, social, and
educational efforts to mitigate “fake news,”
our comparative research analysis of
elections in the three countries observes that
digital disinformation has become further
entrenched in electoral processes.
We observe that a wider range of political
actors and parties enlisted a diversity of
digital campaign specialists and paid out
“buzzers” (Indonesia), “trolls” (Philippines),
and “IOs (information operations)” (Thailand)
to circulate manipulative narratives discrediting their political opponents.
Some politicians even fanned the flames of
religious (Indonesia/Thailand) and ethnic
conflict (all three) in their communities in
a desperate bid to score votes. Meanwhile,
tech platforms, journalists, and factcheckers
struggle to catch up with
disinformation architects’ savvy innovations.
Rather than mitigate disinformation, state
actors and government legislators across
these countries have been found to be
directly responsible for producing political
disinformation themselves.
This report offers a regional assessment of
current practices in election-related social
media manipulation and interventions with
the aim of mitigating future risks in the global context. This report synthesizes original
research separately conducted by Ong
(Thailand) and Tapsell (Indonesia) as well
as collaborative research they conducted
for an election integrity intervention in
the Philippines. Our research methods
are primarily qualitative–drawing from
interviews with politicians, campaigners,
digital strategists, and journalists–and digital
ethnography based on long-term observation
of online communities across social media
This report summarizes trends of electionrelated
disinformation production from
these three Southeast Asian countries to
offer insight and comparison for other
countries. Their high level of digital
activity, robust (sometimes underground)
digital economies, and complex histories
of political polarization possibly preview
forthcoming global trends.