Tech giants removed 12M posts spreading disinformation on Indonesian election

Arie Firdaus and Tria Dianti
Tech giants removed 12M posts spreading disinformation on Indonesian election Aribowo Sasmito, co-founder of the Indonesian Anti-Defamation Society, works to debunk hoaxes at his office in Jakarta, Feb. 1, 2024.
Bay Ismoyo/AFP

Major social media and technology platforms purged millions of hoax posts in the run-up to last month’s elections in Indonesia, the country’s minister of communication and information technology said on Tuesday.

TikTok led the charge by eliminating 10.8 million posts, and Google, which owns video sharing platform YouTube, removed around 2 million beginning on July 17, 2023, minister Budi Arie Setiadi said, adding the companies acted voluntarily.

On its own, his ministry identified 3,235 posts as hoaxes and successfully directed platforms to remove 1,923 of them, Budi said. 

The remaining stayed but were flagged as misinformation because they were not considered harmful, the minister said without explaining why the ministry chose to leave misinformation,  damaging or otherwise, on the internet.

“Some of the posts were outlandish, so we flagged them as fake news,” he told a news conference. 

The ministry said the climate leading up to the Feb. 14 election was better than it was in 2019, but misinformation remained as rampant as it was back then.

Still, there was a shift in the types of election-related hoaxes from 2019, the ministry said in a report last month.

Previously, hoaxes often involved fabricated stories about a candidate’s alleged ties to China and the banned Indonesian Communist Party, the report said. The recent trend, however, is to allege bias in government institutions toward a presidential candidate and unfounded assertions of official endorsements, according to the report.

Last month’s presidential race featured Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, former Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan, and former Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo. 

The official results of the election, expected to be reported on Wednesday, likely will confirm the presumptive victory of Prabowo and his running mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the eldest son of outgoing President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

People converse near a Meta sign outside of the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., March 7, 2023. [Jeff Chin/AP]

Budi also said that paid online trolls, known locally as buzzers, played an outsized role in spreading fake news items. 

“It’s crucial to note that buzzers account for almost 92% of the misinformation chatter in our digital space,” he said. “The activity spans across various platforms, from Google and Meta to TikTok.” 

The prevalence of misinformation during elections is a growing concern globally and Indonesia is no exception. 

The 2019 presidential election was marked by the proliferation of fake news, with incumbent Jokowi becoming a frequent target.

Social media, deeply ingrained in Indonesian life, had been used for political smear campaigns since its introduction into the nation’s political landscape in 2012. However, the 2019 elections saw an unprecedented level of fake news. 

Facebook was identified as the primary conduit for the spread of fake news, forcing it to take action by removing accounts and groups.

The spread of election-related misinformation has been indiscriminate during this year’s election, according to Pratama Persadha, a security systems analyst.

“Internet hoaxes spread evenly across all presidential candidates through various channels and social media,” the analyst from the Communication and Information System Security Research Center told BenarNews.

Pratama advocated for a stronger alliance between the government and social media companies to combat the proliferation of false information. 

He suggested that platforms enhance their ability to detect negative content, underlining the need for partnering with fact-checking organizations to verify information.

Aribowo Sasmit from Mafindo said he was concerned about artificial intelligence (AI) being used to fabricate convincing deep fakes. 

“For example, using AI clones, mimicking certain voices like that of a deceased president,” Sasmito told BenarNews, 

He was referring to a deceptive January video that appeared to show the late former dictator Suharto endorsing the Golkar Party.

 Jeirry Sumampow, of the Indonesian Voter Committee, an NGO, told BenarNews he suspected the actual number of hoaxes circulating was even higher than reported. 

The researcher emphasized the crucial role of digital literacy. 

“The defense lies with each individual so that they are not influenced by and provoked by hoaxes,” he said.


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