Indonesia curbs social media as it blames hoaxes for inflaming unrest
Fact-checkers say calls for violence on networks have spiked since Tuesday when a contested election count confirmed President Joko Widodo as the winner
Jakarta — Indonesia has introduced curbs on social media in a bid to prevent the spread of hoaxes, some calling for violent post-election attacks, and quell two days of protests in the capital.
Fact-checkers say hoaxes and calls for violence on social media networks have spiked since Tuesday when an official election count confirmed President Joko Widodo as the winner, a result contested by his challenger, Prabowo Subianto.
Six people have been killed in unrest that has gripped parts of Jakarta since Tuesday night.
Chief security minister Wiranto said to “avoid provocations, the spread of fake news through the community, we will limit access to certain features on social media”.
The move imposes limits on the ability to upload videos or photos on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and its platforms Instagram and Whatsapp.
Another video widely circulated on social media showed a since-disproved siege of a mosque by police
Communications minister Rudiantara told reporters the restrictions are meant to slow visual content that could inflame “emotions” and will be temporary in Facebook’s third-largest market globally with 130-million accounts.
Reuters reviewed six posts forwarded via the Whatsapp messenger system calling for violence and attacks to protest the election results, as well as shared doctored videos.
One called for protesters to attack prominent Jakarta sights by hiding explosives in books, water bottles or walking sticks. Another video widely circulated on social media showed a since-disproved siege of a mosque by police.
Several versions of the video were captioned saying that the police officers were disguised as “Chinese people” wanting to attack Indonesian worshippers, while another photo of a riot soldier falsely depicted him as a “secret Chinese soldier”.
In the world’s most populous Muslim country, suspicions about the wealth of the ethnic-Chinese community run deep and the influence of China is a sensitive issue. Chinese businesses came under attack during riots in Jakarta in 1998.
Under Indonesia’s broad internet defamation law, creating and spreading fake news is illegal and punishable by prison.
“We have never seen anything like before in volume, severity, and co-ordination,” said Harry Sufehmi, co-founder of Mafindo, an Indonesian organisation fighting fake news.
The Indonesian moves come after three social media shutdowns in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of attacks that left more than 300 dead in April and broader global questions for social media networks.
Internet monitoring group Netblocks said network data showed Facebook and Instagram backend servers have been blocked as have Whatsapp and telegram messaging services.
One source said the communications ministry is targeting domain name system (DNS), which routes traffic to websites, to enable the social media restrictions.
Many residents in Jakarta said they have trouble accessing Whatsapp, while other parts of Indonesia including Central Java and Bali also appeared to be affected.
A spokesperson for Facebook said it is responsive to the government and “committed to maintaining all of our services for people who rely on them to communicate with their loved ones and access vital information”.
Twitter and telegram were not immediately reachable for comment.
Some experts praised the restrictions given the tension.
“The slowing down of video and photo content in Whatsapp makes sense, as the platform allows for rapid spreading of material which can incite and enrage at a sensitive time like this,” said Ross Tapsell, an Indonesia expert at Australia National University.
An investigation by Reuters in March found that both the campaigns of Widodo and his opponent Subianto deployed elaborate social media teams to spread propaganda and fake news.
Much of the misinformation published during the election focused on stoking ethnic and religious divides while depicting electoral bodies as corrupt.
Widodo won more than 85-million votes of 154-million cast in the world’s third-largest democracy, but retired general Subianto o has alleged “enormous cheating and irregularities”.