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How fake news stifles democracy in Asia

  • 24 August 2018


Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler news service based out of the Philippines, is an advocate for targeting fake news. Ressa has spoken out on numerous occasions about her experiences of government attempts to silence her through initiating court cases, and offered social network analysis revealing how fake news spread about her and Rappler with the help of Facebook.

She refers to this 'global phenomenon' as including 'patriotic trolling', which she described on ABC Radio as 'using online state-sponsored hate to silence dissent and attack critics', the flooding of fake news and disinformation, as well as the specific targeting of women. Ressa says that in the Philippines, they are fighting the impunity of both the government and Facebook itself, though she went on to say that 'Rappler could not have grown without Facebook'.

India has recently seen fake news spark a series of lynchings. Another encounter with disinformation occurred when a Chhattisgarh farmer said her income had doubled in a teleconference with Prime Minister Modi. Subsequently, she spoke to ABP News saying she was coached and that the daily income of 700 INR (AUD $14) was in fact shared among the members of her self-help group.  This was followed by news reports that claimed the ABP report was fake news.

Subsequent to this, the farmer would not speak to media, reportedly due to local pressure from Modi's BJP party. Just a couple of weeks later, the ABP anchor who broke the story, Punya Prasun Bajpai resigned, along with managing editor Milind Khandekar.

Further, social media is being used to spread disinformation such as that 95 per cent of rapes in India are committed by Muslim men, and to share violent videos of mob lynchings. This may be parallel to what Ressa describes: 'What we've seen is that hate has been used to pound the fracture lines in the Philippines and to target anyone who asks difficult questions, and that's helped to create this spiral of silence that has had an incredibly negative impact on our democracy.'

Jonathan Green raised in his article earlier this year the complicity of the press in the rise of political trolls, and Binoy Kampmark raised concerns about government control of modern communication platforms in his article in 2017. With the number of internet users expected to reach 500 million by June of this year, Twitter-registered users at 76 per cent of total internet users in 2017, 201 million active Facebook users and 200 million