Pandemic X Infodemic: How States Shaped Narratives During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many unprecedented records in the history of the world. The coronavirus crisis was the first large-scale pandemic that began in a time when the internet and social media connect people to each other. It provided the latest information to respond to the COVID-19 and the technology to ask about each other’s well-being. Yet, it spread and amplified disinformation and misinformation that made the situation worse in real-time.

In addition, some countries have had opaque communications with the public about the COVID-19, and some government officials have aided in the dissemination of unconfirmed information. Other countries also created their own narratives on the COVID-19 and were reluctant to disclose important information to the public. This has led to restrictions on freedom of expression. Activists and journalists who tell the different stories from the state-shaped narrative were arrested.

To strengthen civil society’s effort to empower the public with better access to the truth, the Innovation for Change – East Asia Hub initiated “Pandemic X Infodemic: How States Shaped Narratives During COVID-19“; a research to track East Asian governments’ information, disinformation, and misinformation efforts in their respective policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020-21. This research covered four countries – China, Myanmar, Indonesia, and the Philippines – with one thematic focus on migrants in the receiving countries of Thailand and Singapore.

**Report on China will be released in June/July 2022.



Report Summary:


In the Myanmar research, the researcher focused on the state’s early response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government failed to coordinate between two government committees to deal with COVID-19, one led by a civilian government, and one led by the military VP. Also, the state undermined its own messaging by saying this such as they were trying to keep infections and deaths at zero and reporting that the Burmese lifestyle and diet prevented infection from COVID-19. From February 1, the military junta worsened the situation through actions that further undermined pandemic safety. They put seven townships under martial law and included 23 causes of action, including online speech that could be punishable by death. The consequences of all of these are that health authorities and the general public are missing key data to make public policy and household decisions.

Written by Dan Goode. As Atrocity Prevention Project Officer at ALTSEAN-Burma, Dan focuses on human rights, atrocity prevention, business and human rights, and the COVID-19 pandemic in Burma. ALTSEAN-Burma (Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma) is an NGO working to support national and grassroots movements of Burma/Myanmar working for human rights and democracy.

Read the full report here.



In the study of Indonesia’s case, the researchers pointed out the inconsistency of the government’s public communication. The one portal website to counter COVID-19 disinformation was not enough to deliver a consistent message to the public and it also decreased the public trust in the government. The Minister of communication and Information stated that government can identify disinformation, and this state brought up the dispute and worries about the Indonesian government’s power abuse toward labeling contradictory opinions as “disinformation”.

Written by Gilang Desti Parahita and Zainuddin Muda Z. Monggilo. Gilang Desti Parahita is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Communication Science, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia.  She has published scholarly articles in various journals and books on the topics of digital journalism, communication and minority groups, and communication for sustainable development. Zainuddin Muda Z. Monggilo is a lecturer at the Department of Communication Science, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia. His research interests include journalism, digital literacy and digital communication.

Read the full report here.


The Philippines

The Philippines case study is about disinformation which is produced by the government itself. The researcher first touches on the Philippine Government’s main COVID-19 information sources: Malacanang Palace [The President and his spokesperson], the Inter-agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, and appointed COVID-19 Czars. The President himself has said that gasoline can be used to sanitize or disinfect masks. The Governor of one of the biggest provinces in the Philippines has said that steam inhalation kills the virus if you already have it. The President’s legal counsel has said that you can just gargle with salt water to do the same, or eat bananas to make your body stronger against it. Lawmakers have advocated for the use of the anti-nematode drug, Ivermectin, which is not yet supported by general medical protocols on the cure and prevention of COVID-19. All this disinformation was harmful to public health and put people’s lives in danger. 

Written by Vino Lucero. Vino is an investigative journalist based in the Philippines. He wrote investigative reports and data stories for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) from 2015 to 2019. His writings earned him a finalist spot in the 2017 and 2019 Free Press Awards’ “Newcomer of the Year” category, making him the first Asian journalist to achieve such a feat.

Read the full report here.


Thematic focus on Migrant workers in Singapore and Thailand

The research was also done in terms of disinformation targeting migrant workers in receiving countries, especially in Singapore and Thailand. 

In the Singapore case study, existing prejudice against migrant workers from Singaporeans leads and feeds into disinformation. Some disinformation shared on media implies that the culture and lifestyle of migrant workers make them prone to contracting coronavirus.  Also, disinformation shared through messaging apps claimed migrant workers would get paid if they tested positive and would be relocated to nice hotel rooms. However, the truth was that the migrant workers did not get a financial benefit for testing positive to COVID-19, and most of the migrants with confirmed cases needed to stay in the dormitory with many others. 

This tendency of blaming migrant workers as the vector of the pandemic is also happening in Thailand, another biggest migrant-receiving country in East Asia. In Thailand, there was fake news that migrant workers deserved to be neglected because they did not comply with the health measures. In fact, migrant workers were alienated from health information due to language barriers. Without acknowledging this, xenophobic disinformation against the migrant population reinforced the prejudice that they did not follow the health regulation and were not hygienic.

(Singapore) Written by Kirsten Han. Kirsten Han is an independent journalist based in Singapore, and she runs We, The Citizens, a newsletter covering Singapore from a rights-based perspective. Her work is mostly covering themes of social justice, civil society, human rights, and democracy.

(Thailand) Written by Yasasipa Chutimas Suksai. Yasasipa Chutimas Suksai currently works as full time conference interpreter specializing migrations and labor issues and is permanent observer of migrant worker situation in Thailand and a part-time researcher and consultant on migrations, workers’ rights, and diasporas communities.

Read the full report here.