Gov't Confronts WhatsApp, Google, Twitter to Censor Obscene Content

Indonesia's Ministry of Communication and Information will summon WhatsApp, Google, Twitter and other over-the-top internet companies to demand they provide better filter for obscene content on their platforms in its latest crackdown on internet pornography. (Reuters Photo/Barry Huang)

By : Jakarta Globe | on 10:51 AM November 07, 2017
Category : Business, Corporate News, Featured

Jakarta. Indonesia's Ministry of Communication and Information will summon Google, Twitter, WhatsApp and other over-the-top internet companies to demand they provide better filter for obscene content on their platforms in its latest crackdown on internet pornography.

The move came after the ministry threatened on Monday (06/11) to close WhatsApp in 48 hours if the company refuses to bring down lewd Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) images available through third-party services on the popular chat app.

The government actively censors internet content related to radicalism, terrorism and pornography but its technical limitation often allows officially banned content to slip through.

"The problem is not limited to WhatsApp. Other platforms are even worse," Semuel Pangerapan, the director general of application at the ministry, said.

"We will summon all services, especially the search engines."

"It's impossible for us [the government] to find every negative content because we still do the screening manually. The public should help us by reporting what they find," Samuel said.

What's Up, WhatsApp?

Public uproar about obscene content on WhatsApp lit up on Sunday after a message went viral on various WhatsApp groups (WAG), warning parents about the problem.

The government has since sent three letters to the company asking them to get rid of the pornographic GIFs, Samuel said.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp responded on Monday, asking the government to work with its third-party providers instead.

On Monday afternoon, the government blocked Tenor, one of the third parties.

Tenor said it was attempting to release a "fix."

Giphy, another provider, did not respond to requests for comment.

Tenor spokesperson Jennifer Kutz said in a statement the company is working "to address the content issues raised by the Indonesian government within the next 48 hours."

Kutz said the company "regularly" works with "local entities to make sure our content reflects the cultural mores and legal requirements."

She declined to identify the proposed fix or existing regions with content restrictions.

Tenor allows integrators of its service to block potentially objectionable image results or a defined list of search terms.

"In the case of WhatsApp, we’re taking on this responsibility," Kutz said in an email.

Giphy, a New York City company that also works with WhatsApp, offers its partners a feature for filtering inappropriate images.

Parental Warning

Terms of use for WhatsApp, Tenor and Giphy say users must be 13 years old or of any age deemed legal in their country of residence.

Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa urged parents to be more proactive in supervising their children's use of electronic gadgets.

"The communication ministry has taken all the steps that need to be taken. Now parents need to take on some of the responsibility as well. They should try to limit gadget use, especially WhatsApp, by their children," Khofifah said.

"Parental wisdom is still key. Children should only be allowed very little time playing with gadgets," she said.

There are 69 million active Facebook users in Indonesia, the fourth largest in the world after the United States, India and Brazil.

The country’s regulators have reached settlements with several technology companies after threatening to shut them down.

In August, Indonesia announced it would block Giphy’s website for showing gambling-related ads.

Access soon was restored after it agreed to cooperate with regulators.

Bans similarly were rescinded in recent years on social media websites such as Vimeo and Tumblr and the chat app Telegram, which regulators had said was "full of radicals and terrorist propaganda."

With additional reporting from Reuters

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