Since President Donald Trump made the term into a political weapon in the lead-up to the US elections that brought him to power, “fake news” has come to dominate dinner table discussions and media agendas across the world. Essentially, the term describes any story that has been made up and manipulated to look like a genuine report, which can then easily be shared online to large audiences via social media and messaging apps. Its darkest form has been on display over the past 12 months in Asia , where fake stories have helped spread racial hatred, incite violence and influence elections. Here, This Week In Asia looks back at how spurious stories and lamentable lies affected Asia this year. WELCOME TO FAKEBOOK Facebook, WhatsApp target fake news ahead of Asia’s election season In January, social media giant Facebook and its popular messaging subsidiary WhatsApp promised to get tougher on fake news ahead of this year’s elections in India, Australia , Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. With nearly 1 billion active users across the Asia-Pacific, Facebook certainly had a job on its hands – and at the start of the year, not everyone was convinced the company was up to the task, including Filipino journalist and a Time magazine Person of the Year 2018, Maria Ressa , who accused big tech firms like Facebook of shying away from their responsibilities to uphold the truth and letting “lies spread faster”. Facebook blocks foreign ads before Thai election amid fears junta will benefit By mid-February, however, the social media site was taking action with a block on foreign electoral ads in Thailand in the run-up to that country’s polls on March 24 – a move designed to protect “the integrity of the elections”, it said, but which some observers claimed would hurt the more media-savvy opposition. In the end, Prayuth Chan-ocha – head of a military junta that had ruled the country since a 2014 coup – remained in power as the leader of a coalition that was only formed after nearly four months of political wrangling following the disputed polls . Fake Facebook accounts tied to Indian politics, Pakistan’s military removed Facebook also made moves to delete hundreds of fake pages and accounts in India and Pakistan , announcing in April that it had carried out a crackdown to rid the platform of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. During the rival nations’ hostilities over disputed Kashmir in February, fake news flew on both sides of the border, amplified by social media as well as mainstream news channels caught up in patriotic fervour. Is China helping Indonesia fix its ballot boxes? No – it’s just another online hoax In Indonesia , meanwhile, online hoaxes – exacerbated by digital illiteracy and increasing religious and racial tensions – swept the archipelago nation ahead of its own polls on April 17. One such fake news story, first posted on February 12, played on pervasive anti- China sentiment in Indonesia to claim Beijing would provide a loan to help “fix” ballot boxes damaged by disasters such as floods and earthquakes. The original, unaltered report, carried quotes from the chairman of the country’s general elections commission saying the damaged boxes would be replaced using state funds. Anti-fake news law aims to counter falsehoods ‘exploiting’ Singapore’s ‘fault lines’ Southeast Asian governments responded to the threat of hoaxes this year with anti-fake news laws. Singapore ’s, which was introduced in April before coming into effect six months later , imposes hefty fines of up to S$1 million (US$735,000) and maximum jail terms of 10 years for those convicted of spreading fake news – strengthening the city state’s already tough approach to dealing with misinformation, despite misgivings from free-speech supporters. Malaysian MPs vote to do away with fake news law Across the causeway in Malaysia , however, a very different story played out when the country scrapped a law criminalising fake news, with punishment of up six years behind bars and fines of 500,0000 ringgit (US$120,000). The controversial law, pushed through last year by the regime of former prime minister Najib Razak, was widely criticised as a crude tool aimed at silencing criticism in the wake of the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal . Thailand’s ‘fake news’ monitoring hub fuels censorship concerns Thailand’s response, meanwhile, was to launch an “Anti-Fake News Centre” in October that the government claimed would counter the “almost 80 per cent” of online or social media posts in the country that are false or misleading. Rights groups said the move was more aimed at stifling dissent and keeping a close eye on public discussion of the country’s unassailable monarchy. Man arrested for hoax saying ‘police from China’ shot protesters in Indonesia In May, Indonesia tackled a surge of misinformation in the wake of deadly post-election unrest by temporarily blocking WhatsApp in the country before arresting a man who claimed rioters in Jakarta had been shot by “police from China” . One of the offending messages seen by the South China Morning Post included photos of fair-skinned police officers, wearing masks, with the caption: “China has sent security forces to Indonesia disguised as foreign workers”. Indonesian ‘cyber-jihadist’ arrested for spreading fake news, hate speech Another Indonesian found himself under arrest in June, this time for spreading fake news and hate speech via social media as part of a self-proclaimed “cyber-jihadist network” that calls itself the Muslim Cyber Army. The 32-year-old, who told police he used to be a member of the notorious Islamic Defenders Front, ran a YouTube channel filled with dubious videos that were viewed more than 4 million times. Reports of US$16 billion for East Timor gas project ‘politically motivated hoax’ Even tiny, impoverished East Timor found itself the victim of a politically motivated “hoax” this year , with the country’s Foreign Minister Dionísio da Costa Babo Soares telling This Week In Asia in August that reports it would borrow US$16 billion from China to finance an oil and gas project were overblown – although he admitted the nation was in “intense discussion” with a state-owned Chinese company to build a network of petroleum processing infrastructure along its south coast. Beijing the bogeyman: how fake news fuels fears in Malaysia and Indonesia More fake news swept Malaysia in September, with claims of Chinese nationals being granted Malaysian identity cards – the latest in a series of attempts to stoke racial tensions. A growing number of such conspiracy theories aimed at China emerged in both Malaysia and neighbouring Indonesia this year, amid paranoia about the economic giant to their north wanting to “take over” the region. Fake news of Chinese gaining citizenship stokes racial tensions in Malaysia Indonesian authorities have also struggled to counter false reports about earthquakes and other natural disasters , which spread panic among residents of one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries and complicated relief efforts – with thousands of Indonesians too scared to return to their homes in October after a deadly quake sparked a stream of fake news and hoaxes warning that an even bigger tremor was looming.