Indonesia acts to tackle fake news, extremism

Launch of cyber security agency comes as millions of citizens going online for first time

Millions of Indonesians are going online for the first time just as concern about Internet hoaxes reaches a fevered pitch. PHOTO: ST FILE

JAKARTA • Indonesia has launched a new cyber security agency as the world's biggest Muslim majority country moves to tackle online religious extremism and a flood of fake news on social media.

Millions of Indonesians are going online for the first time just as concern about Internet hoaxes reaches a fevered pitch.

One of the most high-profile cases in recent times was a false claim circulating on social media in December that Beijing was seeking to wage biological warfare against Indonesia.

The viral hoax prompted the Chinese embassy to issue a statement saying that the reports were "misleading".

Yesterday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo named Major-General Djoko Setiadi, former chairman of the country's encryption agency, to lead the new body.

Maj-Gen Setiadi's herculean task will include cracking down on terrorist networks which communicate online and combating online hate speech that has been blamed for driving fundamentalism in a country once praised for its religious pluralism.

"We will control cyberspace," Maj-Gen Setiadi said.

"Our technology will not only be able to detect, but also to penetrate (terrorist) networks."

Chief Security Minister Wiranto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, added: "We need this body to help maintain security nationally, regionally and globally."

Last week, Indonesia said it was adding some 600 personnel to the ranks of its counter-terrorism police in a bid to crack down on groups inspired by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other militants.

The archipelago nation has long struggled with Islamic militancy and attacks, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, in the country's worst terror attack.

A sustained crackdown weakened the most dangerous networks but the emergence of ISIS has proved a potent new rallying cry for radicals.

Hundreds of Indonesian radicals have flocked to fight with ISIS, sparking fears that weakened extremist outfits could get a new lease of life.

Meanwhile, more than 150 million out of 255 million Indonesians are now said to be Internet users.

The explosion in the number of Internet users comes amid global concern about the spread of fake news, with some critics claiming a flood of false stories circulating online may have helped Mr Donald Trump win the US presidential election in 2016.

Still, some worry that Indonesia's new cyber agency could threaten privacy rights.

"It would be really unfortunate if it was going to be used to monitor public discussions because that is people's right," said Internet privacy expert Nukman Luthfie.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2018, with the headline Indonesia acts to tackle fake news, extremism. Subscribe