Hoax: A Rising Concern in Indonesia

Agus Sudibyo speaking at a pre-event session of the 2017 World Press Freedom Day. (Photo by Ben Latuihamallo/VOM).

Hoaxes are a cause of concern in Indonesia.

Agus Sudibyo, Chairman of the Indonesian Network of Anti-Hoax Reporters (JAWARAH) delivered the aforementioned statement during an interview session with Voice of Millenials at the 2017 World Press Freedom Day venue (04/05).

The topic has been recently discussed prior to the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election. BBC Indonesia reported that the election, which was already held on April 19, was “overshadowed by hoaxes, fake news, and misleading information.”

Several reputable figures in the Indonesian government have expressed their concern towards the issue, including President Joko Widodo, Minister of Communication and Information Rudiantara, Police Chief Tito Karnavian, and Commander of the Indonesian National Army Gatot Nurmantyo.

Creating a definition

JAWARAH defines the term “hoax” on two levels. “Hoaxes are information that is not in line with the truth,” Sudibyo said. “Furthermore, hoaxes discredits the parties involved or mentioned [in the information].”

He stated that hoaxes disrupt the public sphere in Indonesia.

Member of the Indonesian Cyber Media Union Jaya Suprana said that “hoaxes are an illegitimate child of democracy.”

Last February, the Indonesian Telematics Community (Masyarakat Telematika Indonesia) released a report on Indonesian public perception of hoaxes. The report noted that up to 91,8% of hoaxes in Indonesia discuss social and political topics, such as governmental and election issues.

A research conducted by Honorary Council Secretary of the Indonesian Journalists’ Association Wina Armada Sukardi found that up to 27% of the news he sampled contained misleading health information. Following closely, 22% of the sample were news containing political hoaxes.

In Indonesia, hoaxes about the current Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, is the best example.

Why are they created?

In most cases, Sudibyo said that hoaxes are institutionalized. “They are intentionally created for specific causes,” he said.

Separately, Presidential Deputy on Political Communication and Public Information Eko Sulistyo told Voice of Millenials that a lot of hoaxes are tailored for financial reasons. He gave the case of the pro-Trump hoax as an example.

According to Sudibyo, the parties reported in the hoax are not the only ones at loss. “Both the subjects and objects of the story are clearly disadvantaged. Furthermore, readers get confused by the information they counter,” he added.

Wina Armada Sukardi shared five characteristics usually present in hoaxes. (Infographic by Natasya Dinda Rizky/VOM).

The case of Ahok

Basuki, better known as Ahok, is unarguably one the most frequently discussed political figure in Indonesia. He was a candidate in the fiercely contested Jakarta gubernatorial election this year. He lost by a wide margin from fellow candidate Anies Baswedan.

TIME noted that Ahok’s Chinese ethnicity is the target of much of Indonesia’s false news. Furthermore, he has been put on trial for the charge of blaspheming Islam. Indonesia is the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world.

Several fake information reported on Ahok include the news about an intelligent leak discussing the previous 4th of November demonstration, otherwise known as Aksi Damai 4/11 (The Peace Movement of November 4th); a moment where approximately 50.000 – 200.000 protested Ahok’s “blasphemous” statement on the streets of Jakarta.

Several hoaxes were also noted during the reporting of the event.

Another hoax involved Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla. Last April, hundreds of flower wreaths were sent to Ahok, thanking him for his service as governor. A meme containing a false statement by the VP spread online.

The meme instructed all government and private agencies to not send any flower wreaths for Anies’s inauguration next October, stating that “it would be better to donate the money to the poor.”

Kalla stated that the meme was a hoax.

As an effort to counter the growing misinformation, Ahok’s campaign team amplified their social media content.

“We also use [our] social media to clarify any misleading information,” Clara Tampubolon, a team member, said.

Efforts to counter hoaxes

Sulistyo said that the Indonesian government is committed to counter hoaxes and its spreading.

Civil society groups have expressed their concern to combat misinformation. Several organizations were formed for the purpose of countering hoaxes, such as Masyarakat Anti Hoax (Community Against Hoax)  and Turn Back Hoax.

One of the leading online media in Indonesia Detik.com established a special column entitled Hoax or Not to help its readers identify dubious information that they encounter online.

Additionally, the issue was also voiced by various Indonesian artists, such as the biggest rock and roll band in Indonesia, Slank. The band is infamous for its lyrical take on social issues in Indonesia.

“What I see is that it actually points to one thing: these hoaxes on social media are intentionally made to create chaos,” said Ivanka, bassist of Slank. 

“We have to fight it [hoax], because silence is not always the solution,” added the band’s vocalist, Kaka.

The writer is student at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta

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