Monday, January 09, 2017

Govt. Attempts to Prevent the Spread of Hoaxes

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Marcell Sihombing, CR-21


Illustration by: BAS.


The ever increasing numbers of hoaxes and fake news stories which are being spread through various social media and smartphone-messenger apps have been in the spotlight of late. Indeed, many internet users (so-called “netizens”) often share news links and contents that they find online without seeking any further clarification. Such behavior usually involves a broadcasting component, in addition to the posting of texts or pictures on social media or through smartphone messenger apps.
It is important to note, however, that a netizen may become subject to severe criminal sanctions for broadcasting or posting any content that satisfies the definition of “hoax content”, as stipulated under Law No. 19 of 2016  (Amendment) on the Amendment to Law No. 11 of 2008 on Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE Law).
According to Teguh Afriyadi, the Head of the Sub-Directorate for Investigation and Enforcement at the Ministry of Communication and Information’s (Ministry) Directorate of Information Security, a so-called “hoax” is a popular term for any fabricated contents which are spread via various communication and information technology networks.
Under the Amendment and the ITE Law, there are three main types of content that constitute illegal contents or hoaxes and which are punishable by law, specifically: 1) Defamation and fabricated lies (fitnah), as stipulated under Article 27 (3) of the ITE Law; 2) Financial profits which are generated as a result of fraudulent practices which are carried out against customers, as stipulated under Article 28 (1) of the ITE Law; and 3) Provocative contents which relate to ethnicity, religion, race and inter-group (SARA) matters. These types of hoax may result in sentences of between three to six years of imprisonment or fines which range from IDR 750 million up to IDR 1 billion.
Mr. Afriyadi went on to reveal that the Ministry identified a total of 5,143 complaints which related to illegal contents throughout the course of 2016, including hoax stories. However, the Ministry, as a governmental institution which is mandated to handle the enforcement of the ITE Law, does not specifically calculate the exact amount of reports filed by citizens which are related to the spread of hoaxes.
“We [the Ministry] have never really identified whether specific contents constitute hoaxes or not, however the point is that they contain negative contents, either in form of provocations, fraud and so on. Generally speaking, a ‘hoax’ is simply a term which is used in order to define incorrect/false contents but we [the Ministry] have never intentionally sought to ascertain their total amount or numbers,” Mr. Afriyadi asserted.
Mr. Afriyadi went on to explain that hoaxes represented a whole new industry for content producers within the cyberspace. However, in spite of the fact that hoaxes are currently a booming trend, owing to a number of different reasons and motives, it is consumers themselves who are ultimately responsible for preventing such hoaxes from going viral.
Mr. Afriyadi went on to observe that the trend for spreading hoaxes has shifted from social-media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter to smartphone messenging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Line. He further asserted that a hoax will usually go viral when a netizen tries to clarify the content itself by forwarding said content to other netizens. The recipient will then re-forward the contents to other netizens and the whole cycle continues without any proper understanding or appreciation of the dangers that such contents represent, specifically as regards the types of hoax that have the potential to threaten national security as a whole.
In this context, Mr. Afriyadi offered three suggestions which the country’s netizens can adopt in order to avoid being legally sanctioned for the spreading of hoaxes. Firstly, any netizens who are looking to clarify content should try to simply summarize it in their own words without copy-pasting and forwarding the actual content of the potential hoax. Secondly, netizens must not openly ask for clarification through their social-media accounts or groups, which are publicly accessible to a certain degree, and should instead privately ask a knowledgeable person or an official institution which possesses the capacity to clarify the information in question. Finally, in cases where the contents of a potential hoax have been copied and pasted through a social-media account or groups, the poster should ensure to state that the post or broadcast in question is merely aimed at gaining clarification and thus clearly states that the netizen in question has no intention of spreading a hoax, an offence which is punishable under the ITE Law.
Along with the rising instances of hoaxes, President Joko Widodo is said to have recently pushed for the establishment of the National Cyber Agency (Badan Cyber Nasional - BSN) in a bid to minimize the misappropriation of social media for the spreading of hoaxes.
Commenting on the establishment of the BSN, Mr. Afriyadi told hukumonline that the connection between hoaxes as a legal matter and the urgent need to establish the BSN still required further clarification.
“The BSN and hoaxes are two different matters. Hoaxes relate to illegal contents, while the BSN relates to the issue of national security, which obviously encompasses more than simply hoaxes. Phishing, malware, computer viruses and other similar elements also fall within the ambit of the BSN,” Mr. Afriyadi stated.
Mr. Afriyadi went on to claim that the handling of hoaxes in fact does not fall under the main duties and responsibilities of the BSN, although the handling of all illegal online contents ultimately has to be coordinated with the BSN. At the end of the day, the direct duties and responsibilities of the BSN involve the handling of all negative contents that may affect national security only, while the other contents should still be handled by the relevant institutions, such as the National Agency for Combating Terrorism (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme – BNPT), the national police and so forth. After such institutions have assessed and issued a recommendation for a block, then the Ministry then becomes responsible for the implementation of any such block.
Despite these various uncertainties and the need for further adjustment and clarification, Mr. Arifiyadi predicts that the BSN will be officially established at the beginning of 2017 as an independent institution which reports directly to the President and which will also coordinate with the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs. On a more specific note, the minister in question, Wiranto, has also revealed that the establishment of the BSN will involve some 12 ministries and institutions.
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