A Myanmar media site imitating the look of RFA and calling itself “Radio Free Myanmar” has been outed by a watchdog group and local news outlets as a serial spreader of disinformation and hate speech. The ruling party, a target of many of the false reports, has threatened legal action.
The makers of the website had hoped to capitalize on the popularity and credibility of the RFA brand and produced more than 300 false news articles in a single month – most aimed at influencing the November 8 elections in the country. But the site also has published disinformation about COVID-19 and the Muslim Rohingya community, according to the fact-checking site Myanmar ICT for Development Organization.
“It looks like Radio Free Asia, sounds like Radio Free Asia, and even purports to be from the same country as Radio Free Asia. But anything beyond a cursory glance reveals that Radio Free Myanmar is nothing like the United States-based media outlet,” wrote the on-line news outlet Frontier Myanmar in an exposé on the group.
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., with eight bureaus and offices overseas, Radio Free Asia is a grantee of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. RFA is one of five networks that USAGM oversees.
Frontier Myanmar quoted Rafael Frankel, director of public policy for Facebook in Southeast Asia, as saying that the U.S. social media firm was aware of RFM and has “taken action on a number of pieces of content.”
This isn’t the first time RFA’s logo has been hijacked. As RFA reported earlier this year, China set up multiple fake bot accounts on Twitter that resembled the RFA brand, but named after various regions of China, such as “Radio Free Guangdong” or “Radio Free Anhui.” China used these accounts to tweet fake news, including allegations that the coronavirus came from the U.S.
The public interest journalism website ProPublica said in March that it had tracked more than 10,000 suspected fake Twitter accounts since August 2019 that have been part of a “coordinated influence campaign with ties to the Chinese government.”