Indonesia is cracking down on a hate group called Saracen that was spreading incendiary information and fake news through a massive online network.
Tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter have been grappling with addressing the rise of “fake news” online in the recent years. During the Presidential elections in the US, the number of fake news websites and stories increased exponentially. These were among some of the most viral stories from that year. The spread of fake news through social media platforms was also rampant during other major elections such as the French Presidential elections.
In April 2017, Facebook and Google announced a new app called Fact Checker in hopes of curbing fake news. Google personally will not fact check articles through this product. However, it has created the “Fake Check” tag to go along with online articles that have been verified.
Indonesian authorities have been at work cracking down on the massive network of websites and Facebook pages that spread hoaxes. The Ministry of Communications and Information found some 800,000 websites spreading hoaxes and hate speech last year. The ministry blocked close to 773,000 websites in 2016, however nearly 90% of them were either porn or gambling sites. The country is home to 250 million residents. Much of the Indonesian population is Muslim but there are significant portions belonging to other religions and sections as well.
The hate speech group, which goes by the name Saracen, was reportedly spreading content attacking the current Jokowi administration. This has made the authorities particularly angry at its reach. The Indonesian police have arrested Faizal Muhammad Tonong, the coordinator of the group. Police have also arrested Saracen chairman Jasriadi, group coordinator West Java chapter Sri Rahayu Ningsih, and Ropi Yastman, administrator of a Facebook group called “Keranda Jokowi-Ahok” (Coffin of Jokowi-Ahok).
There were reportedly over 800,000 Facebook pages related to the Saracen. Presidential spokesperson Johan Budi said that this crackdown was necessary to protect the nation’s integrity. He said, “If this is allowed to continue, it isn’t just about violating the law but also has the potential to damage the unity of this country.”
According Frenavit Putra, an IT expert at ICT Watch, fake news feeds off on hatred. He told Vice, “The crackdown on this syndicate doesn't mean the end of hoaxes. There may be less hoaxes right now, but it's all temporary. Since the very beginning, what fuels fake news is hatred and disappointment towards people in power or toward certain religions or ethnicities. The trigger is a group of people who produce these hoaxes. The eradication of fake news is not an easy feat because some people are just blinded by their hatred."
Our assessment is that while this may not put an end to fake news, the cracking down on Saracen might slow it down temporarily in Indonesia. Governments across the world should accept the reality of fake news and address it as a top priority as it has the power to derail agenda. Fake news has been used to incite violence in many nations including India. We believe that the most effective answer to fake news is accurate news.