Fake news, it’s a well-known refrain around the world. From the US president’s blaming unfavourable coverage as fake news to Germany establishing media monitors tasked with disproving hoaxes.
Here in Indonesia, the problems are much the same and the government and other community leaders have been quick to respond. “Anyone’s freedom to upload and post comments must not hurt others, therefore they should be wise in using social media,” Presidential Spokesman Johan Budi said recently, before adding that the president has ordered police to charge both producers of fake news and those who order it.
We take a look at how extensive the problem is and what is being done to find a resolution.
Fake News and Fake Communists
A demonstration in Central Jakarta which began peacefully on Sunday evening, September 17, before turning into a clash between activists and hardline Muslims in the early hours of Monday is believed to have been escalated after fake news went viral.
The demonstration at the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation offices in Central Jakarta had been in response to police shutting down a #AsikAsikAksi festival event earlier that weekend, according to The Jakarta Post. The event had been a discussion about the 1965 communist purge, which remains a highly controversial topic in Indonesia.
Activists were surrounded by right-wing counter- protesters who had descended on the venue after hoax news accusing the activists of being pro-communism and linking the group to the now disbanded Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) went viral throughout the evening.
Police intervened and investigations are continuing.
The Fake News Factories
Last month, police announced an investigation into a syndicate known as Saracen which is believed to have produced and disseminated hoax stories for a range of issues with a particular focus on then governor of Jakarta Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama.
Police believe the syndicate charged Rp.70 million (US$5,278) per campaign, which would involve the publication and pushing of a series of stories and hoaxes. The Jakarta Post reported police had arrested Pekanbaru man Jasriadi, 32 years old, believed to be head of the portal and the site saracennews.com. The site was very popular, with around 800,000 followers on its Facebook page.
Police reported the syndicate had links to influential members of the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI), including the lawyer to FPI leader cleric Rizieq Shihab, Eggi Sudjana. The site has been shut down while investigations continue. The site is believed to be just one of 43,000 news portals to pop up online from Indonesia.
Lies, Slanders and Fatwas
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country’s highest clerical body, warned it would issue a fatwa against fake news during the divisive Jakarta gubernatorial election. Following continued problems with hoaxes over the year, MUI issued a series of directives in June.
The MUI fatwa forbids Indonesia’s Muslims from engaging in destructive behaviours on social media. It covers the production and sharing of fake news, hoaxes and hate speech, as well gossiping online. MUI Chairman Ma’aruf Amin told local media there is no difference between online and offline gossiping and both are forbidden for Muslims.
Fatwas are not legally binding, but this particular fatwa is very similar to the Law on Information and Electronic Transactions which targets slander and defamation.