JAKARTA • Indonesia witnessed the downside of the spread of fake news when clashes broke out in the capital city in the middle of last month, as a mob of 2,000 people tried to storm an event at the office of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute, following rumours that the event was related to the disbanded Indonesian Communist Party.
Close to 1,000 police officers were deployed to calm the situation, and some five people were arrested.
Fabricated news, which played a significant role in the United States presidential election, could have denied President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo a chance to win in the two-horse race against Mr Prabowo Subianto in 2014.
Hoaxes and hate speech also paved the way for the defeat earlier this year of incumbent Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, in the most divisive election since the presidential race.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Joko could not hide his anger when commenting on the police's arrest of three people who had been caught running an online syndicate responsible for creating and spreading hoaxes and inciting hatred for money.
Calling themselves Saracen, the group took orders from certain parties, including electoral candidates, to discredit political opponents for price tags ranging from 75 million rupiah (S$7,500) to 100 million rupiah per month, police said.
The police discovered that the group owned and managed about 800,000 social media accounts used to broadcast hate speech. The group's female administrator was arrested for posting anti-Chinese slurs and defamation of the President, police, political parties and mass organisations. Her colleague admitted to editing pictures and uploading them on social media.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK