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Indonesia drafting ministerial regulation to block social media

Written by Ursula Florene Published on 

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Indonesia has a long history of blocking social media platforms without strong legal grounds.

Indonesia’s Communications and Information Ministry (Kominfo) plans to draft a ministerial regulation (Permen) that will detail the steps the Ministry will take to block a digital platform. Director general Semuel Abrijani Pangerapan said in a virtual conference on Monday that the regulation is part of the government’s attempt to mitigate hoax related to COVID-19, which is said to have flooded social media platforms.

According to Pangerapan, Kominfo has identified more than 2,000 sources containing false information, of which 1,759 have been taken down. The government urged the platforms to closely monitor the content and collaborate with officials in battling hoax, including taking down what is deemed as problematic by the government. The authorities will need to provide solid evidence to back a possible takedown request.

“So prior to the blocking, there will be administrative sanctions, like fines, imposed on the platforms as a deterrent effect,” Pangerapan said. “To take down content, there must be legal evidence. The government can’t just demand for immediate removal without proof.”

Platforms that carry false information and refuse to comply with the takedown request could be subject to a ban. As the ministerial regulation is still in its early stage of conception, Pangerapan didn’t disclose further details.

Twitter declined to comment on this issue. Facebook didn’t respond immediately.

Ika Ningtyas of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (Safenet) urged the government to include other stakeholders—the platforms themselves and its users—into the process: “Because social media platforms involve many interests, from public service, access to information, and economy,” she told KrASIA.

Safenet is an official partner of Twitter, Google, and Facebook in Indonesia, where it advises the companies and monitors digital rights violations.

Previous incidents

In battling false information, Indonesia already has Government Regulation No. 71/2019 which requires social media such as Facebook and Twitter to actively screen and remove “negative content,” including pornography and false information. Failure to comply will result in a fine of at least IDR 100 million (USD 6,800). The law will take effect by the end of 2021.

The Indonesian government has a long history of restricting content that is deemed a violation of national laws. In 2018, Kominfo blocked the blogging service Tumblr and short video app TikTok, saying that they violated the country’s anti-pornography rules. The ban was later lifted after both companies pledged that they would remove pornographic content from its platform.

Ningtyas added that the government needs to be transparent as there’s a risk of labelling critics or of narratives that contradict the administration’s point of view.

“Don’t let the government be the sole reviewer for content violations, since they could be biased,” she said. “There should be an independent institution that decides whether the content violates the law or not, and whether platforms should be fined.”

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