Questioning the Effectiveness, Impartiality of Internet Censorship

BY :DHANIA PUTRI SARAHTIKA

JANUARY 04, 2017

Jakarta. The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has blocked access to 11 websites for propagating hoaxes and fake news or for containing hate speech based on ethnicity, religion, race and group affiliation.

The sites are voa-islam.com, nahimunkar.com, kiblat.net, bisyarah.com, dakwahtangerang.com, islampos.com, suaranews.com, izzamedia.com, gensyiah.com, muqawamah.com and abuzubair.net.

The ministry also blocked 11 websites in September last year for the same reasons.

However, CNN Indonesia cited official data showing that the number of websites and social media accounts of this kind increased after censorship, which raised questions over the effectiveness of the action.

"It's not a matter of effectiveness. It's a matter of performing what is obligated by the law. Article 40 of the Electronic Information and Transaction [ITE] Law obliges and gives the government the right to block websites that disseminate hoaxes and hate speech, or defame the state," Henri Subiakto a legal expert employed by the ministry, told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday (04/01).

Henri said the ministry's action serves to reduce the number of untrustworthy websites engaged in "uncontrolled journalism" and that it also serves as an example for perpetrators.

He said the continuous stream of hoaxes poses a danger to netizens because even those who are mindful are prone to being misled if false information is repeated everywhere. This results in netizens getting trapped in an illusory truth effect.

"We don't block the media because they are regulated by the Press Law. It is the news portals without legitimate legal entities. If the entity is fake, then how can we trust the content?" Henri said.

He said fake content does not only violate the ITE Law, but also the Press Law for irresponsible journalism and the Copyright Law for citing information from other sources without proper procedures.

However, questions remain about ways to stop the stream of new fake-news websites replacing those that are blocked.

"Then we will block access to them again. It is hard to trace and block IP addresses because not all the sites are located here [in Indonesia]. There are some from abroad, even by terrorists," Henri said.

He added that the ministry is assisted in this by internet service providers.

"We just broadcasted the websites we want blocked to the companies and then they did it. This year, we [the government] plan to do the blocking ourselves. We are still preparing the technical procedures and tools to do so," Henri said.

He added that the ministry has been cooperating with the police and National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) in determining what sites to ban.

Complaints Against 'Islamic' Websites From Muslim Groups

As many of the websites that were banned contain Islamic names, questions arose about whether the government is biased against the Muslim community.

For instance, an online petition was created on Change.org on Dec. 31, demanding that the ministry restores access to Islampos.com, with supporters claiming that it is an impartial news portal that does not contain hate speech. As of Wednesday, nearly 11,000 people had signed the petition, with only 4,000 more needed to achieve its target.

However, Henri denied the allegation by saying that some of the complaints about hoax websites came from Muslim groups who noticed deviant content.

"It's not that we go after Islamic websites. We do not ban trusted Islamic media such as Republika. It's the fake websites we're after," Henri said. Many of the sites appear to be Islamic to attract Indonesia's Muslim majority.

"They're the prime target market for hoaxes. Islamic content is used as a means to reach that market. The more people click on the fake news, the more money the perpetrators get," Henri said. He added that the perpetrators get paid by advertisement aggregator Google AdSense, which had recently started to restrict ads on fake-news websites.

The Communication Ministry has blocked a total of 773,097 websites, with 90 percent or 767,888 containing pornographic content and 3,755 for involving gambling.

From January to mid-December last year, more than 87 websites with radical content have been screened and blocked, while 51 were blocked for content related to hate speech based on ethnicity, religion, race and group affiliation.

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