The political use of encrypted messaging applications: Evidence from southeast Asia and its implications for the global public sphere
Keywords:Disinformation, encrypted messaging apps, global public sphere, propaganda, Southeast Asia
Global Internet users face rising challenges with well-organized disinformation and propaganda campaigns. Scholars have studied this challenge by examining political communication over social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube, and X (formerly Twitter). Much less work has examined the manipulative political role of encrypted messaging applications (EMAs), despite their massive popularity around the world. Our research examines EMAs as elements of the global public sphere through 16 qualitative interviews with people who design and track propaganda campaigns online in three ASEAN nations: Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines. Interviewees report that: 1) politicians and political groups harness EMAs in coordinated efforts to inorganically amplify their own agendas; 2) disinformation proliferates on EMAs, but civil society works to address this; and, 3) while citizens see the encrypted aspect of EMAs as powerful for civic engagement, they also feel it presents unique barriers to addressing what has become a serious problem with disinformation on EMAs.
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