Slow progress in verifying news sites

The Telegram messaging app logo.
The Telegram messaging app logo. PHOTO: REUTERS

The challenge to eradicate fake news is a tall order for the Indonesian authorities in a country where more than half of its 260 million population are Internet users.

They have to monitor not only websites run by mainstream media, but also social media platforms such as Facebook and messaging apps such as Telegram.

According to the Press Council, there were more than 43,000 websites claiming to be news portals as of early this year.

"These include news aggregators or any websites that distribute news, so they are not just those that produce their own news content," said council member Nezar Patria.

"And as of today, only 620 of the more than 1,050 online news media that have registered with us have passed the verification process."

Another council member, Ms Ratna Komala, said the media watchdog is aware that many of these websites were set up to spread hoaxes.

  • >130m

    Number of Internet users in Indonesia.

    800k

    Number of websites blacklisted since 2015 .

    >43k

    Number of websites claiming to be news portals.

"They do not cover news events and do not comply with journalistic values, and serve only certain interest groups, helping (clients) promote a politician's interest," she said.

The police are investigating several fake news cases, including one on the Saracen syndicate and an investigation into the source of online reports that said 10 million workers from China are now in the country.

Indonesia has set up a National Cyber and Encryption Agency to tackle such issues, while the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has, since 2015, blacklisted 800,000 sites that carry "negative content".

These include websites, chat groups and social media pages that promote Islamic extremism or terrorism, as well as those that carry information on how to build homemade bombs or mount attacks.

However, experts say the government must do more to tackle the issue of fake news because Indonesia has one of the fastest- growing groups of Internet users - almost three times the global average.

 

Allegations that Saracen received money from "clients" to spread fake news and hate speech during the multiple anti-Basuki Tjahaja Purnama street protests and the Jakarta gubernatorial election have unnerved the country.

Many observers, such as Mr Firman Kurniawan, a digital communications expert at the University of Indonesia, believes that if true, the activities of the Saracen syndicate can destabilise Indonesia politically.

Mr Damar Juniarto, regional coordinator for the South-east Asia Freedom of Expression Network, agrees, and believes that the Saracen probe is just the tip of the iceberg.

"There are still elections, for instance, in West Java next year," he said. "So we need to monitor other groups that use 'hate politics' for monetary gain."

Francis Chan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 17, 2017, with the headline 'Slow progress in verifying news sites'. Print Edition | Subscribe