Jakarta. The government's policing of internet content remains imperative for now as Indonesian internet users are not yet equipped to effectively filter content on their own, an official said.
A 2016 study of 61 countries by the Central Connecticut State University found that Indonesia is the second-least literate nation in the world. The study evaluated countries not on their populations' reading ability, but literacy behavior and supporting resources, including aspects such as access to computers, libraries, newspapers and education.
"The internet wasn't designed as something that could be controlled; that power vests with the users themselves and the internet merely serves as a tool that provides the connection. But as long as the literacy rate is below average, we need to exercise control," Semuel A. Pangerapan, director general of applications and information at the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, said on Wednesday (12/09).
The government has been actively censoring internet content related to radicalism, terrorism and pornography for several years already.
Earlier this year, Indonesia blocked more than 70,000 websites displaying negative content through the use of a web crawler developed by state-owned Industri Telekomunikasi Indonesia (INTI). A web crawler is an internet bot, or software that uses dozens of servers to search internet content and issue alerts when inappropriate material is found.
Several popular platforms, including Tumblr, Reddit and Vimeo, are blocked in the country, which has more than 143 million active internet users.
The Ministry of Communication and Information said it was crucial to improve digital literacy among Indonesians as part of efforts to encourage positive use of the internet and tackle negative content.
"We are not merely educating people on how to manage negative content, but also how they can be entrepreneurs and use the internet for productive means," Semuel said.
The government hopes to improve digital literacy through Siberkreasi, a multi-stakeholder initiative that seeks to reduce the sharing of negative content, including so-called fake news, radicalism and pornography, while also encouraging members of the public to make active contributions by sharing positive content on the World Wide Web.
This program involves more than 80 civil society organizations, government institutions and private sector and media companies
Most websites that are blocked in Indonesia have been blocked for pornographic content. More than 90 percent of the nearly 800,000 websites blocked last year were blocked for this reason.
The ministry said removing access to obscene content is one of the government's priorities, especially considering its harmful effect on the youth. "This is a serious problem that must receive special attention," Semuel said.
He added that the web crawler has found almost a million websites promoting such content. The government launched a forced safe search engine in August, which seeks to curb online search results when using porn-related keywords.
"However, porn is a big industry, and they often use other keywords to manipulate the system," Semuel said.
An example of this is a user-generated content site intended for children's stories and fairy tales, in which adult content was discovered.
"We need to educate children; they must be prepared to protect themselves from negative content," Semuel said.
There is also the added danger of sexual harassment or abuse through private messaging apps, which heavily rely on manual reporting by users. Semuel highlighted the role of early education on reproductive health to ensure children are aware of those risks.
Teguh Arifiyadi, who heads the Communication Ministry's investigation directorate, said pornography is rampant on social media.
In 2017, there were more than 500,000 reports of pornographic content and accounts on popular microblogging site Twitter alone.
"When you search on Twitter, most of the pornographic content has to do with some form of online prostitution," Teguh said, explaining that some accounts offer booking services for sex workers.
Indonesian neurologist Pukovisa Prawiroharjo, who recently conducted a study on the impact of pornography on the brains of addicted juveniles, said the problem of freely available porn should be addressed in a similar manner to alcohol, which in Indonesia is restricted to persons of legal age.
"We need to see if it's possible to only allow porn to be accessible to those with credit cards, which would then require providing a valid I.D., so we can at least ensure that those who are underage won't have access to it," Pukovisa said.
This way, Indonesia may be able to prevent children from accessing porn, in addition to anti-pornography and education campaigns online, he added.