The controversy which started with the alleged misuse of Facebook user data by Cambridge Analytics continues unabated.

Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is due to testify before the US Congress sometime this month and brands are pulling spend and reportedly shuttering their Facebook pages.

In Asia, there has been a somewhat different response. While using data privacy as a reason for action, many countries are using the public backlash against social media to enact laws which combat the spread of ‘fake news’.

The reasoning is that with the accurate targeting capabilities of social media advertising and the apparent inability of the platforms to stop the flow of incorrect information, Asian countries are more vulnerable to the influence of external, ‘bad actors’ than ever before.

Here is a summary of what has happened recently in a number of Asian countries:

Malaysia

Malaysia has perhaps taken the most extreme action out of any Asian country. On April 2nd, the government approved a law which would punish those that maliciously spread ‘fake news’ with up to six years in prison and a fine greater than US$100,000.

While some have accused the government of passing the law with ulterior motives, the new law is clearly a warning shot for anyone considering a campaign which inflames political discourse.

Singapore

Singapore has not yet passed a law against fake news, the government recently held eight days of public hearings on ‘deliberate online falsehoods’ in order to determine the best way forward for the country.

While the course of action has yet to be determined, it is clear that Singapore now views the potential of the spread of fake news as a serious threat to its stability

Indonesia

In Indonesia, a cabinet minister recently threated to block Facebook in the country if evidence emerges that personal data of citizens is being passed to purveyors of fake news.

This threat is credible considering that Indonesia has a general election this month and the country blocked messaging service Telegram in July of last year.

India

Finally, in India, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry claimed recently that they would de-license journalists who distributed fake news.

While they have since withdrawn the threat, many still fear that the announcement was ‘testing the waters’ for such regulations in the future.

What should marketers do?

With efforts to combat ‘fake news’ dominating the headlines, what should brand marketers in Asia do?

1) Avoid associating the brand with controversial issues

As the distribution of news on social media is clearly a touchy subject in Asia at the moment, brands are advised to do their best to avoid becoming involved in the debate.

While supporting worthy causes may, at times, have positive associations for a brand, there is now a heightened risk of a movement becoming suddenly unpopular. The best approach now is to steer clear of emotive issues, especially those having to do with elections.

2) Carefully monitor social media discussions

As always, brands should keep a close eye on social media in the countries in which they are active. A quick response to false allegations can be the difference between a short-term hassle and a full-blown PR crisis. Consult our Social Media Strategy Best Practice Guide: Asia Pacific for regional examples and advice.

3) Ensure all digital advertising content is strongly backed with facts

Perhaps this goes without saying, but the current political landscape means that brands should take extra caution and verify all of their claims.

This advice is not new, either. China has had a ‘truth in advertising’ law in effect for many years now which holds both publishers and advertisers responsible for the truthfulness of content. Brands operating there have had to make special efforts to ensure that they follow the published guidelines.

The future of fake news in Asia

So, with the recent laws and threatened public actions, it’s clear that Asian governments are alert and alarmed by the alleged ‘fake news’ incidents in the West.

Brand marketers should continue to be aware of any legal changes in the countries in which they operate and avoid becoming enmeshed in the online debate about the spread of ‘fake news’.

As emotions are running high, it is unlikely that the debate on this topic will die down any time soon.