Jakarta. Police have arrested six suspected members of the so-called Muslim Cyber Army, a group believed to have been behind the recent spread of fake news in the country.
Brig. Gen. Fadil Imran, head of the cybercrime directorate at the National Police's Criminal Investigation Unit (Bareskrim), said during a press conference in Jakarta on Wednesday (28/02) that some of the suspects were made to swear allegiance, or baiat, before becoming members of the group's inner circle.
The suspects were identified as Muhammad Luth, Riski Surya Darma, Ramdani Saputra, Yuspiadin, Ronny Sutrisno and Tara Arsih Wijayani. They were arrested in Tanjung Priok in North Jakarta, Pangkal Pinang in Bangka Belitung, Jembrana in Bali, Sumedang in West Java, Palu in Central Sulawesi and Yogyakarta.
They have been charged with contravening the 2016 Information and Electronic Transactions Law, which carries a penalty of up to six years' imprisonment and a fine of Rp 1 billion ($70,000).
Fadil told reporters that the group actively uploaded negative content and fake news, including defamation of individuals or groups, and material that could provoke racial, ethnic, religious or intergroup conflict, to social media.
"Their [social media] posts are either provocative, or simply false. We have been looking into this matter and finally identified the administrators and members of the group," Fadil said.
Muslim Cyber Army
Investigations by the cybercrime directorate revealed that the Muslim Cyber Army (MCA) has an extensive network consisting of several groups responsible for various tasks.
For example, MCA United, an open group with hundreds of thousands of members and reportedly run by 20 people, is tasked with stockpiling content, such as news, videos and photos, for dissemination by members.
The network also has a so-called sniper team, consisting of 177 members tasked with creating a counternarrative and reporting their opponents' social media accounts to the authorities for deactivation.
According to Fadil, the six suspects arrested this week ran the MCA Family group and the "sniper team." They were responsible for reporting social media accounts with opposing views to the authorities, and for infecting opponents' electronic devices with computer viruses.
"This is what they refer to as the 'family.' Some members [who are active] in the main group are invited to join smaller groups, before eventually being recruited to the core group," Fadli said.
He added that the suspects revealed that they were required to swear allegiance before being allowed to join the core group.
The MCA is allegedly responsible for spreading various fake news items, such as reports on the supposed rise of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and about mentally disturbed individuals allegedly attacking members of the ulema.
The group reportedly makes use of several smartphone applications, including Zello, Telegram and Facebook, to communicate.