Jakarta – Internet users should think twice before sharing anything on social media, with the National Police now intensifying their crackdown on online hoaxes by prosecuting not only the masterminds of the misinformation but also those who might have shared it with no malicious intent.
In one of the biggest crackdowns on fake news, the National Police's criminal investigation division (Bareskrim) has charged 16 individuals with spreading fake news about a wave of child kidnapping across the country and false information regarding Lion Air flight JT610, which crashed into the Java Sea last month.
One of the individuals, identified only as AN, 30, allegedly posted a video on her Facebook account that was not related to the crash.
Her motive, according to a document released by the National Police, was to convey her condolences about the missing crew and passengers. "[I offer] my condolences about the downed Lion Air flight JT610 from Jakarta to Pangkalpinang. I hope all the victims are found soon. Amen," she wrote in the video's caption as quoted in the document.
AN is not alone. Others have also been accused of spreading hoaxes despite their claims that they had no intention of causing the public to worry.
AZ, 21, who has been charged with spreading a fake kidnapping video, claimed she had spread the video "because of her empathy as a mother, and because she was worried about the news circulating on social media".
National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Setyo Wasisto said the investigation into the suspects was based on reports from citizens as well as findings from the police's cyber team.
"The suspects allegedly obtain the information from someone else, then edit it so that it incites fear among citizens. The fake kidnapping news, for example, could raise concerns among mothers," Setyo told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
The police charged all the suspects under Article 14 Paragraph 2 of Law No. 1/1946 on the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of three years behind bars.
In October, the police named nine people suspects for allegedly spreading misinformation about huge earthquakes in West Nusa Tenggara and Jakarta only days after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake jolted Palu and Donggala in Central Sulawesi.
The police's move has sparked concern among civil liberty activists, who believe the move was excessive.
The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) called on the police to be more prudent in prosecuting people suspected of spreading fake news, saying that they must ensure the suspects intended to provoke or cause a disturbance when they spread misinformation.
"The 1946 Criminal Code Law also stipulates a high measure of chaos. Commotion among netizens isn't enough to trigger the 'chaos' article of the law and use it as a basis for suspect naming," ICJR executive director Anggara said.
ICT watch researcher Sherly Haristya echoed Anggara's statement, saying it might not be appropriate to name someone a suspect if they did not have any malicious intent when distributing the news.
"We should be more careful not to generalize the definition of fake news in order not to violate freedom of expression, especially for people who are still learning to be more literate in using [social] media," Sherly said.
Setyo dismissed concerns surrounding the prosecution. "We conducted a thorough investigation and found them to have played a role in spreading fake news."