Fake news has influenced three political events that turned violent in 2017 across Asia, emerging as a weapon of strategy for state and civilian players to deepen divisions in society.
From the elections in Indonesia to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar to the drug war in the Philippines, the spreading of misinformation has been used to increase propaganda, stereotypes and hate speech.
In just the Asia region, fake news is linked closely to domestic politics including an increase in nationalism, said a member of a think tank in Singapore. Nationalist politics together with ethno-religious underpinning overtures increased circulation of misinformation across the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia.
In Jakarta, blasphemy charges against the governor fueled deliberate stories that were inaccurate about Basuki Tjahaja Purnama that were released in an attempt to prevent the governor from winning April’s re-election.
Focusing on his Christian beliefs and Chinese ethnicity the articles went to the heart of Indonesia’s deep religious divisions and caused violent clashes.
Police reported that many articles about Purnama were a campaign by an online syndicate known as Saracen, which creates and spreads hoaxes for profit, had organized. However, it is not known who the clients of Saracen were.
In Myanmar, both the state and civilians have created misleading information related to Rohingya Muslims a group regarded widely as illegal immigrants by the Buddhist majority in the country.
Though denied by the government, the brutality carried out by security forces and Buddhists against the Rohingya is considered ethnic cleansing by the UN.
However, reports in papers and on the television said the Rohingya were burning their own homes.
Misleading reports that favor President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines have increased the strongman image of the leader. They included endorsements that are hoaxes for him, such as one that NASA allegedly said he was the solar system’s best president.
On study by Oxford University claimed the campaign of Duterte spent more than $200,000 on trolls in the internet to attack his critics and spread propaganda that was pro-government to attack critics, while spreading propaganda supporting the president that looks like legitimate news.
That has complicated discourse in the public around the controversial policies of the Philippines president. Alleged extrajudicial killings for example are dismissed by supporters of Duterte as fake news while the figures in the death toll reported by international media are dismissed routinely by the government that has caused Philippine citizens to doubt the situation’s severity.