Digital Campaigning Futures in Island Southeast Asia

Dr Ross Tapsell2

2Australian National University, Australian National University, Australia

Who are the main actors increasingly shaping campaigns online in Southeast Asian elections?  Through months of empirical research during elections campaigns in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, where debates around ‘fake news’ were central to election discourse, I interviewed actors in the ‘disinformation arena’, such as politicians, political party leaders, big data company directors and employees, digital campaigners, and fact checking organisations whose job it was to counter disinformation. The concern here is not only that ‘fake news’ content is growing in the region, but that progressive, liberal politicians who once opposed professional disinformation practices are now enthusiastically adopting them. They believe employing ‘buzzer teams’, targeting voters through social media algorithmic location-data, and even creating your own black campaign material, is now a central part of a modern-day election campaign in the digital era. These trends are growing and are a crucial factor in the degradation of democracy in the region. I conclude the presentation by examining recent trends in policy responses in Silicon Valley, and in laws and regulations from governments and industry in these three Southeast Asian countries.


Ross Tapsell is a senior lecturer and researcher at the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific, specialising in media and culture in Island Southeast Asia. He is the author of Media Power in Indonesia: Oligarchs, Citizens and the Digital Revolution and co-editor of Digital Indonesia: Connectivity and Divergence. Ross is involved in a number of Southeast-Asia activities at the ANU. He is currently Director of the ANU’s Malaysia Institute, is involved in the ANU’s Indonesia Project and the academic news/analysis website New Mandala. He is on the editorial board of the international scholarly journal Asiascape: Digital Asia (Brill).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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