On July 10-12, Bangkok (Thailand) hosted the International Conference on Fake News and Elections in Asia that addressed the issues of elections and so-called fake news – fabricated, false news. The conference was held under the aegis of international non-profit organization Asia Center, which undertakes research on various significant socio-political problems affecting the region, as well as convenes conferences, seminars and roundtables to discuss these issues and formulate policy advice.

Key players in Southeast Asia are increasingly expressing their concerns over the rise of information manipulation to influence public opinion, mislead, incite hatred and fear and even revise factual historical accounts. Charismatic opinion leaders turn to social networks to spread hate speech and fake news aiming to attract supporters.

The conference addressed the phenomenon of fake news, their use and abuse by governments, individuals and social networks, the citizen’s role in consuming such “news’, the responsibility of media outlets, technology companies, and respective legislation. Media literacy and fact-checking issues were also examined.

The Conference was organized in partnership with the International Republican Institute, The Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University, The Thai Media Fund, School of Media, School of Media, Languages ​​and Cultures, University of Nottingham, Malaysia, NSHM Knowledge Campus-Kolkata, Media Studies and Journalism Department, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, The Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, Law Faculty, University of Jember, HIVOS, and The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD).

The event was attended by over hundred experts from Thailand, India, Malaysia, Australia, the USA, UK, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, Bangladesh, NGO representatives, deputies of local and national parliaments, and academic professorate.

IAC representatives Yulia Afanasieva and Clifton Ellis made their presentations under Panel 9: “Perspectives from Other Regions: Africa, Australia, Estonia, UK and US”.

“Fake News: African Experience” oral presentation by Yulia Afanasieva highlighted the main conclusions on using fake news during the elections in Zimbabwe, the Republic of Madagascar, the DRC, South Africa, as well as the comments on disseminating false information about Russia and Russian experts. It was mentioned, inter alia, that the opposition often uses fake news, including those produced abroad, to discredit the authorities and the electoral process, to call for protests and violence, and to escalate conflicts. Fictitious information is rapidly replicated and is settled both in the public mind and in some expert reports, including some staff members of the UN missions and other organizations.

The second oral presentation focused on general information about fake news as a phenomenon that became common in 2016 at the suggestion of Donald Trump, as well as the activities of the U.S. intelligence services to control the media sphere, starting from the Operation Mockingbird (in the 1950s, the CIA enlisted American and foreign journalists and scientists to disseminate its information under the guise of student and cultural organizations).

Other panel speakers were: Professor Mark Civitella, La Trobe University, Australia; Professor Mark Granfield, Chichester College Group, UK; Wasin Punthong, Thammasat University (Thailand-Estonia).

Director of the Asia Center invited IAC to co-organize the next event in 2020 and to introduce in-house panels or to convene an independent event on China’s activities in Africa (China’s active expansion rises concern of most forum participants, but its representatives did not attend the event).