When comparing media freedom in Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand, so-called “fake news” appears as threats to a deliberative (online) public sphere in these three diverse contexts. However, “racist propaganda”, “information operations” and “negative campaigning” might be more accurate terms that explain these forms of systematic manipulative political communication. The three cases show forms of disinformation in under-researched contexts and thereby expand the often Western focused discourses on hate speech and fake news. Additionally, the analysis shows that harmful disinformation disseminated online originates from differing contextual trajectories and is not an “online phenomenon”. Drawing on an analysis of connotative context factors, this explorative comparative study enables an understanding of different forms of harmful disinformation in Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand. The connotative context factors were inductively inferred from 32 expert interviews providing explanations for the formation of political communication (control) mechanisms.