Dangers of disinformation are a regional and global concern – ASEAN lawmakers

In the wake of the 2022 Philippine elections, ASEAN parliamentarians for human rights call for a whole-of-society approach to counter the misinformation that threatens democracies

MANILA, Philippines — Former and current lawmakers from Southeast Asian countries on Wednesday (August 31) called on governments, civil society and the public sector to address disinformation as a major regional and international concern.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) conducted a fact-finding mission to the Philippines following the country’s national elections, where misinformation on social media was a key factor influencing the election results. The mission also aimed to show that disinformation endangers not only elections, but also democracies and national security as a whole.

In the case of the 2022 Philippine elections, the mission’s findings showed that organized disinformation operations began years before the official start of the campaign period. When stakeholders began to take action against misinformation, APHR noted that it was already “too late.”

Marcos Jr.'s campaign benefits from years of misinformation - experts

As early as 2019, Rappler investigated how the Marcos family used extensive social media networks to burnish their image. Further investigations by Rappler showed that online myths about the Marcos date back to 2011. This paved the way for Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to win the presidential race, as he enjoyed excellent ratings throughout. of the election period as well as an active and dedicated network of supporters.

Former Thai lawmaker Pannika Wanich stressed the “urgent” need for Southeast Asian countries to address the dangers of misinformation, given the upcoming general elections in Thailand and Malaysia in 2023.

“We expect the same disinformation schemes to taint the election…. [It is urgent] fight for a knowledgeable [electorate]”said Wanich.

Unverified claims online have real consequences, voters warned

The mission also found that disinformation campaigns in the Philippines are often sanctioned by the state, targeting critical Filipinos such as opposition politicians, human rights activists and journalists. APHR said misinformation often thrives in environments where the mainstream media, which serves as the government’s watchdog, is discredited.

Malaysian parliamentarian Maria Chin Abdullah also said attacks on women critics are often gendered and sexualized in nature. The APHR mission looked into attacks on prominent Filipino politicians such as former Vice President Leni Robredo, opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros and Kabataan representative Sarah Elago.

“Disinformation often generates hatred, especially against vulnerable groups like women. These campaigns are often heavily misogynistic, pandering to the worst societal biases against women and marginalized communities,” Abdullah added.

While the fact-finding mission focused specifically on the Philippines, APHR stressed that the phenomenon of misinformation is not exclusive to the country and is also a growing problem in the region and around the world.

“[Disinformation] is not limited to a single country, but we must, as a whole, respond to it at the global level. A global problem requires a global response,” Malaysian MP Kelvin Yii said.

‘Whole society’ needed to resolve misinformation

APHR highlighted the need for a whole-of-society approach to countering disinformation, which should involve the establishment of education and media literacy programs as well as fact-checking as standard practice among media organizations and civil societies. (READ: Fighting lies during elections isn’t just the media’s job, say fact checkers)

“The disinformation pandemic, in the Philippines and beyond, is too big to be addressed with piecemeal measures…. Countering disinformation must be part of national agendas everywhere with governments, civil society and the media rowing in the same direction,” Yii added.

After the impact of misinformation on the elections, truth tellers must collaborate more

Additionally, while APHR has called on the Philippine government to investigate these campaigns, its members have warned of the possible abuse of so-called anti-disinformation legislation that is actually used to target and censor critics. ([ANALYSIS] What would a disinformation law look like?)

“Any legislation introduced as a means to combat the disinformation pandemic must be limited and treated with extreme caution, as it could easily be turned into censorship in the hands of authoritarian regimes, and it should never infringe on freedom of expression. “said Wanich. – Rappler.com

Teresa H. Sadler