WhatsApp’s newfound challenges in Indonesia: Hoax news

Indonesia is facing a hoax crisis on WhatsApp.

It is no secret that the Indonesian society is still prone to the spread of false news or hoax, and Whatsapp is known as one of the most effective platforms to do the job.

The way of spreading hoaxes on messaging service is still the same. The easiest apparently is by re-posting recycled misleading and agitative photos or videos then connecting them with the recent trending events. Take the Lion Air disaster for instance. A string of false stories including alleged cockpit recordings has been circulating online since the plane reportedly crashed into the sea off West Java last week.

“Fake news after a disaster or accident usually spread through recycled photos and videos, this method is also used for the Lion Air JT 610 disaster,” said Ferdinandus Setu, Acting Head of the Public Relations Bureau of the Ministry of Communication and Information, as cited by local media VIVA.

Containing hoax

Setu claimed that even though digital literacy among the Indonesian society is growing, the spread of fake news is still difficult to control. Especially in the realm of instant messaging applications like WhatsApp, which is quite popular in Indonesia with 40% of the local online population using it to communicate with friends. According to Setu, it is easier to manage negative content on social media platforms than on messaging service like WhatsApp. “Our big obstacle is to supervise WhatsApp group since it is in the privacy domain,” Setu added.

In October, shortly after an earthquake hit Palu, false information spread among the public suggested that an aftershock would strike the region again on October 2 and sparked widespread panic. Though the false claim was later on denied by the government.

To minimize the distribution of hoax, Ferdinandus Setu ensures that anyone can report hoax outspread on WhatsApp group to the Indonesian Communication and Informatics Ministry content complaint platform. “The more people file a report, the faster is the handling,” Setu continued.

On the other occasion, Setu reminded netizen to be careful in using social media as they could be punished if violated the ITE law. “We remind everyone that each of our activities in cyberspace, including the activities of distributing, transmitting and making access to hoax information is regulated by Republic of Indonesia Law No. 19 of 2016 concerning Amendments to RI Law No. 11 of 2008 concerning Information and Electronic Transactions ( ITE Law).”

A common challenge

Not only in Indonesia, the spread of hoaxes through WhatsApp is also a common concern in other countries. Earlier this year, nearly a dozen people killed in separate incidents in India after being falsely accused of child abduction based on WhatsApp rumours.

The incidents led the Indian government to demand immediate remedies from WhatsApp to prevent the hoax circulation. Not long after, WhatsApp limited the forwarding messages in India to five groups only.

In order to prevent similar incidents, WhatsApp is now labelling messages that have been forwarded to users in order to distinguish it from original messages. The relatively new feature is expected to help crack down fake news on its premise.

Editor: Ben Jiang