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Violent Conflict, Tech Companies, and Social Media in Southeast Asia

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Online spaces are the new frontier of conflict and violence in Southeast Asia. With the rapid spread of mobile broadband, inexpensive smartphones, online social networks, and messaging applications, the internet has become an important space for civic dialogue as well as more harmful behavior. Violent groups and movements use digital tools to recruit new members, spread propaganda, and keep their organizations running. Conflict actors are increasingly adept at using the new capabilities and emergent properties of online spaces to communicate with target audiences, build coalitions, and counter opposing narratives with greater sophistication, precision, and guile. Such emerging applications of new technologies—spanning extremist insurgencies, majoritarian movements, and social protest and repression—have not yet been well documented or addressed in mainstream peacebuilding efforts across Southeast Asia.

Drawing on evidence from conflicts in the Philippines and Myanmar, and supported by other examples, this report provides a broad analysis of how violent conflicts in Southeast Asia are shaped or affected by online platforms and social media. Research was conducted in late 2019 using interviews, Asia Foundation case materials, online sources, existing analysis, and other available data. The report is one important step in ongoing efforts to stimulate further research, programming, and other action across the region, both within The Asia Foundation and among partners. It also offers a basis from which to address similar issues elsewhere in Asia.

Posted October 28, 2020
Related programs: Conflict and Fragile Conditions, Technology & Development
Related topics: Social Media