Indonesian group gears up to battle fake news during polls

Hoax crisis centres will be set up in three provinces in Indonesia, as part of measures to identify and debunk falsehoods during election season, said Mafindo's Septiaji Eko Nugroho on the third day of public hearings on deliberate online falsehoods. VIDEO: GOV.SG

Regions with greater racial and religious tensions would likely see the spread of more falsehoods during elections, the founder of an Indonesian anti-hoax community said yesterday.

"In every election, (particularly) in elections where there are racial and religious tensions, (the propensity for) misinformation is much higher," Mr Septiaji Eko Nugroho, founder of Mafindo, told the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods on the third day of its public hearings.

He was replying to Select Committee member Sun Xueling, an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, who asked if past elections whose outcomes were affected by fabricated news are an indication of what could happen in upcoming polls in Indonesia.

She cited former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, nicknamed Ahok, who was accused of blasphemy after an edited video appeared to show him insulting the Quran in 2016. He subsequently failed in his bid to be re-elected as Jakarta governor.

Noting in his written submission that Mafindo saw a spike of disinformation at every major election, Mr Septiaji said he expects to see a similar trend as Indonesia gears up for a series of polls culminating in the presidential election next year.

Mafindo, short for Masyarakat Anti Fitnah Indonesia, is launching what it calls hoax crisis centres in three provinces next month. Such centres will bring together stakeholders including the police, election supervisory board, netizens, academics and community leaders, he said.

Mr Septiaji said another possible measure is a customised search engine featuring the Google platform but listing only legitimate sites such as those of registered media organisations.

"This is the approach we are going to advocate to the people - using a clean search engine," he added.

While Mafindo already has 300 volunteers in 15 cities, he said there was a need to involve more people on the ground, and to work closely with journalists, the authorities and other parties.

Public hearings to fight online falsehoods: Read the submissions here and watch more videos.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2018, with the headline 'Indonesian group gears up to battle fake news during polls'. Subscribe