“To understand why disinformation in Southeast Asia is so widespread, you have to understand the particular political economy of the region,” said Curato. There’s a huge oversupply of cheap labour and at the same time, Southeast Asia is at the core of the global outsourcing industry, and the skills of these workers are highly transferable to disinformation operations. For such a worker, a disinformation side-hustle is an easy way to augment a low income.
But who’s coordinating these gig workers for disinformation campaigns? According to a recent study on the disinformation ecosystem in the Philippines, elite advertising and public relations agencies conceptualize campaign narratives and then organize influencer and troll armies to deploy messages. Disinformation is a huge source of profit for the PR industry.