The Governor of Luang Prabang Province released a statement on 17 November disregarding false allegations about the sale of Paxathipatai Secondary School, which is part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Town.
The information started spreading when a prominent Lao social media “influencer” with over 400,000 followers stated that “Paxathipatai Secondary School in Luang Prabang Province has been sold to Chinese Developers. Starting from next year, students will have to move elsewhere.”
The inaccurate piece of news further spread as unregistered media outlets took on the story, further reiterating that the sale was final.
However, the statement released by Viengthong Hatsachanh, Governor of Luang Prabang Province explained otherwise.
“Paxathipatai Secondary School, built in 1954, which is currently registered under the Office of Education and Sports in Luang Prabang Province is deeply rooted in the education system of our province. Of the five buildings inside the premises, two are under the protection of UNESCO.”
Under the World Heritage Convention, each country pledges to conserve not only the World Heritage sites situated on its territory, but also to protect its national heritage. Failure to comply can result in being “delisted,” which has happened to only three World Heritage sites to date.
The statement also indicates that some sections of the school are run down, and that the Office of Education and Sports is “communicating with the World Heritage Office in Luang Prabang Province to develop a plan for the refurbishment of the school.”
The incident raises a growing concern in Laos, in which citizens attempt to push out false information, or information that has not been verified with proper sources.
“Not only does it affect the reputation of the school, but false information like this can spread fast and affect the reputation of the whole country,” one Lao social media user commented.
Falsified, or misleading information can lead to a growing distrust of a country’s governing body, and instead lead to people believing in bad actors. Such narratives can become extremely dangerous as individuals or groups can manipulate a certain belief in a community or large group.
In May of 2021, the Lao authorities established a special taskforce to monitor and respond to illegal online media and fake news in Laos.