Indonesian government restricts access to social media sites during Jakarta riots

The shutdown aims to prevent the circulation of false news on social media and messaging platforms

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Indonesian government restricts access to social media sites during Jakarta riots

In response to ongoing politically motivated riots in a number of locations across Jakarta, the government said it will restrict access to social media networks in certain regions.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, Wiranto announced this at a press conference in Jakarta on Wednesday.

IT Minister Rudiantara who also attended the press conference said the limitation is temporary. “There will be difficulties [accessing social media platforms] and low speeds which limit upload of photos and videos,” he said at the event.

He mentioned a number of platforms that might be affected, namely Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. These three platforms are considered vulnerable to being used as a media for disseminating false news and viral images. Rudiantara urged the public to obtain valid and reliable information through mainstream media outlets.

People in Jakarta and even in other cities have reported trouble accessing WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Line, and Telegram, with either no access at all or very slow speeds that didn’t allow them to upload any images and video. Twitter seemed less affected.

Riots in Jakarta started with a mass protest in front of the country’s election supervision body (Bawaslu) yesterday, with people expressing their anger over the official announcement of the presidential election results which declared incumbent Joko Widodo and his running mate Ma’aruf Amin as winners. Some opposition groups believe the election was fraudulent.

Towards midnight, the protest escalated and caused violence and chaos. Jakarta’s Governor Anies Baswedan said that six people had died and 200 sustained injuries as of 9 am this morning, and this figure has since been confirmed by police, although the exact causes of death were still under investigation.

Shutting down social media sites as an effort to control the flow of information and misinformation is a tactic increasingly often applied by governments in times of political unrest or terror.

Social media bands were imposed after terror attacks in Sri Lanka in April to stop the spread of misinformation that could lead to further violence.

Facebook and WhatsApp are often blamed as platforms that can escalate tense situations because they make it so easy to spread provocative content.

In January, Rudiantara met with WhatsApp official Victoria Grand to discuss how to manage these potentially negative outcomes of WhatsApp widespread adoption in Indonesia.

One feature WhatsApp added was to limit the number of times a single message can be forwarded to 5 times.

However, the social media blackout imposed by the government indicates that it thinks more extreme measures are needed to control the circulation of negative content in the country.

Editor: Nadine Freischlad