Jakarta. In what appears to be a global trend, fake news and hoaxes hog the spotlight during election seasons, as the last US presidential election clearly proved. And in this respect, Indonesia is no exception, Jakarta-based Australian media monitoring company Isentia said in its report, released on Thursday (09/02).
News articles from dubious websites and unverified sources have taken center stage in Indonesia recently, particularly in the lead-up to the Feb. 15 simultaneous regional elections.
However, according to the report, as the election season comes to an end, fewer hoax stories are appearing on social media.
Deddy Mulyana, a professor of communication studies at Padjadjaran University, linked the fake news phenomenon to the fact that Indonesians are not accustomed to dissent and democracy.
“Indonesians love to talk and share stories. But unfortunately a lot of them can't distinguish between facts and lies," Mulyana was quoted as saying in the Isentia report.
"A lot of people don't base their opinions on facts. And social media, the biggest source of fake news and hoaxes, amplifies that tendency," he added.
According to Mulyana, violence, sex, drama, intrigue and mystery are topics that Indonesians are most interested in.
"Fake news distort facts. Politics is especially prone to, a lot of times promotes, distortion. Fake news are used to distort the truth and shape public opinion, especially useful during elections," he said.
Mulyana added that a low literacy rate in Indonesia has not helped with the rapid spread of fake news in Indonesia.
"Hoaxes and fake news also proliferated in the US during the last presidential election, but not as widespread as in Indonesia. Americans were media literate enough before the onset of social media. But here, people can't deal with being bombarded by huge flows of information coming from social media. People like sharing and they share these fake news happily without checking the facts," the professor said.
Media literacy prevents spread of fake news
Hoaxes and fake news are trending down, according to the report from Isentia, after it monitored hoax content posted on social media in Indonesia in the past three months.
"We monitored three major news topics in the past two months, from Dec. 31 to Jan. 24: the supposed 'invasion' of 10 million illegal Chinese migrant workers, false reports former president B.J. Habibie's death and reports that one of the Cisomang Bridge columns had shifted beyond tolerable levels. The last two topics attracted fewer than 100 engagements on social media, but the rumors of Chinese workers invading the country triggered a whopping 1,224 conversations," Luciana Budiman, Isentia's country general manager, said.
According to Luciana, both social and traditional media had a lot of coverage on the rumored arrival of 10 million illegal migrant workers from China.
A total of 118 articles were written on the topic, over 54 percent of them published on online media.
"Newspapers were in second place, contributing 43 percent of the total media coverage on this topic. On social media, Twitter dominated with 86.74 percent of the conversations, followed by Facebook," Luciana said.
The report also reveals that most conventional media opt for a neutral stance in reporting unverified news, while many "netizens" on social media happily make their sentiment — positive or negative — known to their audience.
"Educating people to be more media literate will take time, but the pay-off is definitely worth it. We need people to be able to distinguish between hoax and actual news," she said.
Conventional media's neutral stance put them in a good position to educate people on the importance media literacy, Luciana added.