Police in Lampung province have been left with egg on their faces after announcing they were to receive an award from Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in recognition of their website. Google doesn’t hand out such awards, although it does carry an Indonesian advertisement promoting rape.
Lampung, the southernmost province of Sumatra, has a proud police force, keen on collecting accolades. But its latest award was a joke.
The hoax was apparently started by a web designer, identified in local media reports only as Thomas. Lampung Police claimed they once hired him to design and manage their website, tribratanewspoldalampung.info, but his work ceased about a year ago.
On May 30, Thomas visited Lampung Police headquarters to propose some fresh work on the website. He also informed the provincial police chief, Brigadier General Ike Edwin, that Google had selected the site for an award for being the “most searched” of all police websites in Indonesia. He said an official letter from Google would soon be delivered.
Shortly after the meeting, the proud police chief held a press conference to announce the prestigious award. Lampung Police spokeswoman Sulistyaningsih told reporters the award would be personally presented by Google’s two founders at a ceremony to be held in the US over June 10–15.
Local journalists dutifully wrote up the exciting news. “Classy! Lampung Police Take Google Award,” trumpeted the Radar Lampung daily. Local government officials ran congratulatory advertisements, lauding the police.
Sycophantic netizens also lavished praise upon the police, but others were sceptical. “Beware of scams, Mr Policeman, or the credibility of police will be damaged,” commented one Facebook user. Another offered to sell her pet unicorn, cheap, to those gullible enough to believe the news.
On June 2, Lampung Police’s Information Technology Division contacted Google Indonesia’s Jakarta office for confirmation of the award, only to be informed that it knew nothing about the honour. Google Indonesia communications manager Jason Tedjasukmana said the veracity of the award was being cross-checked.
A little common sense by police would have made it abundantly clear that the award was nonsense. First, tribratanewspoldalampung.info is not the most popular police site in Indonesia. Not by a long shot. When its URL (site address) is entered into page ranking portal Alexa.com, it comes up with an Indonesian ranking of 93,769. Other local police websites in Indonesia have much higher rankings, such as those of East Java (14,621) and Makassar (17,955).
Second, a basic Google search would reveal that Google’s founders do not hand out awards to most-visited or most-searched for websites. There is a Google Founders’ Award, but it is limited to the company’s internal projects. Just about any other type of Google award is a blatant scam. Such as emails claiming that “you have won £950,000 for using Google services”. If you attempt to claim such a prize, you will be instructed to pay vast sums in administrative and processing fees.
It’s deeply worrying that police cannot conduct basic fact-checking before making public announcements.
When the words “polisi Lampung” are typed into Google, the drop-down list of auto-complete suggestions reveals the most popular searches for Lampung Police are about suicide and nude photos. The suicide was of a handsome policeman, Syahir Perdana Lubis (24), who had over 24,000 followers on Instagram. He headed a local corruption investigation unit and allegedly killed himself in February because of a stomach ailment.
The nude photo search stems from the release in 2013 of photos of the private secretary of the former provincial police chief. Police said the photos were released by the policewoman’s jilted former boyfriend, who was subsequently arrested.
Brigadier General Ike Edwin, who became Lampung Police chief in January, is keen on accumulating honours. The Indonesia World Records Museum (MURI), which has been handing out all manner of insignificant records since its inception in 1990, in April inducted Ike as a record holder for being the regional police chief to spend 12 continuous hours handling public complaints outside the police office. Wow.
In May, Ike received another MURI record, for having Indonesia’s first and largest provincial Anti-Drugs Task Force, which mostly comprises unpaid civilians and has 127,650 members.
Commenting on the phony Google award, National Police spokesman Boy Rafli Ama said people should not be too quick to believe everything they hear, lest they fall victim to scammers.
Call to Ban Google
The Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI) on June 7 urged the government to shut down Google and its video-sharing subsidiary YouTube on the grounds that they are disseminating pornographic and violent content.
“These sites are freely available to spread pornographic and violent content without any control whatsoever. Google and YouTube have a negative impact on Indonesia, if they cannot control the websites that they upload to the public,” ICMI secretary Jafar Hafsah said in a press statement.
ICMI was created in 1990 to broaden Muslim support for the regime of then-president Suharto. It was supposed to serve as a mouthpiece for the regime, but ended up paving the way for greater Islamization of the political agenda.
Jafar said YouTube and Google have already cracked down on terrorism-related content, so they should also block porn and violence. He said almost all perpetrators of recent sex crimes claimed to have been inspired and motivated after viewing porn on the Internet. Jafar did not seem to know that YouTube already blocks explicit porn.
He called on the government to support the development of a local search engine tailored for Indonesia. “I believe Indonesian innovators can make a search engine, such as Google and YouTube, only better. Of course with the support of the government.”
Information and Communications Ministry spokesman Ismail Cawidu rejected the call to block Google and YouTube. He said a democratic country cannot oppose freedom of information. Indonesia is not like China, which filters internet content on a massive scale, he added.
Moreover, he said, Google and YouTube carry educational content and do not contrive to promote violence and porn.
Although Google does not endorse violence or hand out awards to police websites, its digital content distribution platform, Google Play, has been running an advertisement in Indonesia promoting rape.
The ad, which is for a news aggregator app called Baca, began appearing in May at the end of certain freeware games. Baca often resorts to sexually themed ads to lure potential users. The rape ad depicts a female with a beaten face and her arms raised, suggesting she is tied up. The text (translated here) reads: “A man raped his beloved roommate at night. The girl thought she was his lover, so she didn’t fight.” This content is not from a news article, but from a porn site.
Indonesia’s patriarchal society has a problem with rape. This is evidenced by groups of leering men making catcalls at passing women, by politicians blaming rape victims for their choice of clothing, by a senior judge telling legislators that victims enjoy rape, by the fact that young girls are gang-raped.
Blaming rape on the Internet, movies or alcohol is foolish. Those are just weak excuses by weak men. Families, schools, politicians, advertisers and the media need to stop objectifying women.
Also, Google must stop running ads that promote rape. And police need to focus on stopping sexual violence, rather than chasing meaningless awards.
Update (01.08.16): Since this article was published, Google has been in touch to investigate the ad mentioned in this article, and have issued the following statement:
“Google’s apps and ads platforms rely on trust between users, advertisers and publishers which is why we have strict policies in place governing the content of apps and ads. We do not allow ads or apps that break our policy rules on our platform and, in the most serious cases, we will terminate access to Google Play.”