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Fake news on Indonesia election spreading as govt asks Facebook to take down over 450 'hoaxes'

Straits Times - November 5, 2023

Hariz Baharudin, Jakarta – Election fever is just heating up in Indonesia but fake news on the polls has begun to spread, leading the government to release multiple clarifications and request that Facebook take down more than 450 pieces of disinformation.

The Sunday Times found that since registration for the nation's top two spots opened on Oct 19, the Ministry of Communications and Informatics has added at least 15 election-related posts to its website to clarify pieces of fake news, better known in Indonesia as "hoaxes".

Campaigning begins on Nov 28 before more than 200 million Indonesians head to the ballot box on Feb 14 to decide between Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, 72; former Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, 55; and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, 54, for president.

Hoaxes involving all three, along with their running mates in some cases, have been circulating online. Most of the posts are designed to catch the eye or shock the viewer into clicking and sharing the "news", and are sometimes accompanied by a doctored picture or video.

In an Oct 21 clarification, the ministry warned that a TikTok account using Mr Ganjar's name to reward people with prizes for interacting with it was fake. The ministry stressed that Mr Ganjar's legitimate account had a blue tick to show it was authentic.

Three days later, the ministry highlighted disinformation about Mr Anies failing a mental health check. It said that there was no credible information to support this claim and the result of a medical test, a requirement to stand as a presidential candidate, will be submitted to the General Elections Commission.

On the same day, the ministry also cautioned Indonesians about online videos spreading the fake news that Mr Prabowo could not run for president as he was over 70 years old.

Vice-presidential candidates, including 36-year-old Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is the mayor of Surakarta and the son of President Joko Widodo, have not been spared.

The ministry said on Oct 24 that a video claiming to be of Mr Gibran, who is Mr Prabowo's running mate, accidentally playing a pornographic video while making a presentation was fake. The video was actually of a lecturer in Taiwan from a news story in 2018.

Minister of Communication and Informatics Budi Arie Setiadi said in a briefing on Oct 27 that his ministry had observed a significant increase in hoaxes since July, but assured the public that the government was prepared to respond and stop disinformation from spreading.

He said that the ministry had started work with Meta, which manages Facebook, to take down 454 pieces of fake content related to the election.

"Even though the spread of hoaxes and disinformation varies, it can be found on various social media (platforms). Our records show that the spread of hoaxes and disinformation related to the election is mostly found on the Facebook platform."

Fake news in Indonesian elections is not new. In 2019 and 2014, for instance, there were attempts to undermine Mr Widodo by portraying him as a communist.

However, the ministry says the amount of disinformation that is being spread in Indonesia is increasing. It found 101 election-related hoax issues from Jan 19 to Oct 27. This was a sharp increase from the whole of 2022, when there were 11 such issues, said Mr Budi.

The minister also pointed out that it was not just politicians who were the targets. The reputation of the General Elections Commission, as well as that of other related groups, had been targeted to create distrust.

Part of the ministry's efforts to counter hoaxes is an ongoing "Beware of 2024 Election Hoaxes" campaign that aims to remind the public to be careful in receiving and sharing information related to the election.

"We need the cooperation of the whole community to be able to counteract hoaxes," said Mr Budi.

Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian also sounded the alarm on Nov 1 about what he called "black campaigns" ahead of the election. Based on false information that threatens to provoke tensions, these campaigns could polarise society, he warned.

He said he had asked the police to take steps to deal with the risks of such conflicts, including conducting patrols in cyberspace.

"Sometimes, there can be tension in social media, so efforts to cool down the situation, including in social media, are key."

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/fake-news-on-indonesia-election-spreading-as-govt-asks-facebook-to-take-down-over-450-hoaxe