Fake news and hatred are common in the political public sphere. It’s created and disseminated to influence public discourse and to discredit opponents for political gain.
Such tactics can be traced back to ancient Rome.
Octavian, who became the first Emperor of Rome, used fake news to discredit his political rival Antony, and later managed to declare Antony as an outlaw and enemy of Rome.
One of his tactics was the propaganda printed on coins labelling Antony as a womaniser and drunk – behaviour which was seen as unfit for one holding public office.
The media defines fake news as news products which are created to manipulate public discourse for monetary and/or political gain.
Scholars in the field of journalism divide fake news into three distinct categories.
The first is satirical news, the second is news products which are fabricated and disseminated as real news websites, while the third is news presented as real but are merely propaganda and disinformation.
Hence, fake news can be defined as news products that are untrustworthy and exaggerated.
Fake news and hatred are common in politics and can even cause social destruction and genocide.
The mass-murder of Jews by Adolph Hitler, the apartheid government in South Africa and the destruction caused by the Khmer Rouge were partly the products of fake news and hatred.
And in 2003, there was the burning down of the Thai embassy and businesses across Phnom Penh.
This cost the Kingdom around $50 million in compensation to Thailand.
The examples I have given serve to remind us that fake news is real, it is here to stay and we should be very concerned about it.
The dissemination of fake news and hatred is not a new phenomenon in Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) “acting president” Sam Rainsy’s political narrative.
Rainsy has accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of being behind the death of former National Police chief Hok Lundy some 10 years ago.
And through this tactic, he has alleged that Lundy’s son, Dy Vichea, with the support of Interior Minister Sar Kheng, is planning revenge against the prime minister.
Considering the unverifiable source, his allegation falls under the definition of fake news.Hun Sen’s children are also not spared.
Rainsy has alleged that the degree awarded to Hun Manet by West Point Military Academy was fake, and which he later downplayed as a “diplomatic degree”.
Like it or not, Manet is a disciplined individual within the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
He has demonstrated his charismatic leadership through his humanitarian work and military reforms, which cannot be denied.
Rainsy’s allegations against him are simple – to reinforce hatred among the people for the CPP and Hun Sen, and to ruin Manet’s credibility.
He has also attempted to foster hatred and incitement against Vietnamese immigrants who have settled in Cambodia for generations.
This is well documented. In the run-up to the 2013 election, David Hutt, the Southeast Asia columnist for the Diplomat quoted Rainsy as saying: “All compatriots, this is the last opportunity, if we don’t rescue our nation, four or five years more is too late – Cambodia will be full of Vietnamese, we will become slaves of Vietnam.”
Throughout my childhood, and perhaps some readers can relate to this as well, I was often told that Cambodia is controlled by Vietnam and there are one million Vietnamese immigrants who have settled in the Kingdom.
Such misinformation has reinforced the people’s sentiments and caused them to develop a sense of hatred against the government and those they consider as not Khmer.
In this context, the culture of hatred or racism is cultivated through disinformation, and this poses significant threats to the principle of diversity.
Rainsy uses these tactics to mobilise the masses, shape their social reality and political orientation, and reinforce his political narrative, as flawed as it is.
Neither Rainsy nor the CNRP has a solid policy portfolio.
Instead, he relies heavily on inciting hatred against Vietnamese immigrants and personal attacks against Hun Sen and his family.
One can’t dispute the existing issues of illegal immigration, poor governance, the sometimes inefficient public services and social issues across the Kingdom such as land grabs.
While these are being addressed through policy improvements, they may be too slow for some.
We need better communication from the government on how those issues are being addressed, and at what cost.
Naming and shaming the culprits will make little difference if the problems continue.
But what makes Rainsy think he can do better or is even fit to hold public office, especially when he is just a conveyor of fake news and hatred?
The coup he is plotting and the instability he is attempting to cause in Cambodia should make everyone worried.
Instability affects the economy, and this means the livelihoods of Cambodians will be directly affected.
Investors will leave the Kingdom in droves if Rainsy gets his way and causes civil strife through his coup attempt.
All Cambodians must be aware of this and start realising the dangers of what may come if Rainsy’s fake news and disinformation tactics are believed.
Sopharith Sin is an Australian Awards scholar. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Management at the University of Melbourne, Australia. The views expressed in this article are those of the author.