JAKARTA • Indonesia is setting up an agency that will tackle fake news, after a flood of untrue stories on social media, including claims that China was waging biological warfare against the country with contaminated chilli seeds.
The new cyber agency will also protect state institutions from hackers, said presidential spokesman Johan Budi yesterday.
Chief Security Minister Wiranto said the move was necessary to combat a flood of news on social media that was "slanderous, fake, misleading and spread hate".
"Freedom of speech is a right in a democracy but there is also an obligation to obey the law," he said.
Among the agency's tasks would be to monitor news circulating online, officials said.
The agency will be overseen by the security ministry and will work alongside other government agencies, officials said, without elaborating further.
Last month, Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared his intention at a Cabinet meeting to combat fake news in a country where more than 130 million out of 255 million people are estimated to be Internet users.
One of the most high-profile cases recently was a false claim circulating on social media last month that Beijing was seeking to wage biological warfare against Indonesia, after a true story was published saying that four Chinese citizens had been arrested for using imported chilli seeds infected with bacteria on a farm south of Jakarta.
The Chinese embassy in Jakarta was forced to issue a statement. It said the reports were "misleading and have caused great concerns".
Another fake story that spread online said millions of Chinese workers had entered Indonesia to replace local workers.
The false stories come as anti-Chinese sentiment is running high, with Jakarta's ethnic Chinese governor currently on trial for blasphemy.
Indonesian Internet expert Nukman Luthfie said he hoped the new agency would not breach people's privacy, but added it was too early to tell.
"It would be really unfortunate if it was going to be used to monitor public discussions because that's people's right," he said.
There has been growing global concern about the spread of fake news, with some critics claiming that a flood of false stories circulating online may have helped brash billionaire Donald Trump win the US presidential election in November last year.