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Indonesia: Google, Twitter Agree to Tighten Content Monitoring

Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
Jakarta
2017-08-04
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Rudiantara, (fourth from right), and Ann Lavin (to his right), Google’s director for public policy and government affairs in Southeast Asia and Greater China, answer questions during a news conference in Jakarta, Aug. 4, 2017.
Rudiantara, (fourth from right), and Ann Lavin (to his right), Google’s director for public policy and government affairs in Southeast Asia and Greater China, answer questions during a news conference in Jakarta, Aug. 4, 2017.
Courtesy of Ministry of Communications and Information

Indonesian officials said Friday that Google, the operator of YouTube, and Twitter had agreed to tighten monitoring by allowing selected users to flag material deemed as being linked to terrorism.

Indonesia, a Muslim-majority nation of 260 million people, is a prolific user of social media, including YouTube, which is owned by Google. Government officials in recent years have warned that terrorist organizations like Islamic State (IS) were using such online platforms to spread propaganda and recruit young Indonesians to its violent cause.

This week alone, Indonesian officials held separate meetings with executives from four of the globe’s tech giants – Google, Twitter, Telegram and Facebook – to discuss ways in which these firms could help the Southeast Asian nation flag problematic content.

After the meeting with Google representatives in Jakarta on Friday, Rudiantara, Indonesia’s minister of Communications and Information, told reporters that Silicon Valley firm and ministry “have agreed to implement a new system called ‘trusted flagger’” during the next two to three months for YouTube only.

He issued the statement after meeting with Ann Lavin, Google’s director for public policy and government affairs in Southeast Asia and Greater China, and other representatives of the search engine.

Lavin, who also attended a post-meeting news conference, said the flagger system was running in France, Germany, Britain and the United States.

“With the trusted flagger program, we’re working even more closely with highly sensitive, well-trained users to flag the problematic content so we can move even faster,” Lavin said.

Indonesia would be the first Southeast Asia nation to adopt the program allowing a panel of non-governmental organizations and other trusted groups to alert Google to questionable YouTube content.

The flagging system will be limited to YouTube and will not apply to Google’s search engine, Rudiantara told Bloomberg news service.

Lavin said the screening process would be transparent and Google would issue a public report every six months revealing details of flagged data.

Rudiantara separately discussed the issue of “negative content” on Friday with Kathleen Reen, Twitter’s Asia Pacific director for public policy and philanthropy.

The two shared ideas about countering content related to radicalism, terrorism, drug abuse and child pornography, officials said.

Semuel Pangerapan, director-general of the Communications Ministry, told reporters that the reporting system on Twitter would be similar to the Google flagger system.

“In addition to providing special access, Twitter will speed up the request of the Ministry of Communications and Information related to various types of negative contents, especially in handling the content of radicalism and terrorism,” he said.

Flagged content would be removed within an hour to 24 hours, Semuel said.

Eradicating propaganda

Friday’s announcements followed a similar one on Tuesday when the government agreed to unblock almost a dozen domain names used by the encrypted messaging service Telegram, after company founder Pavel Durov promised to eradicate terrorist propaganda and content.

Indonesia blocked 11 domain names belonging to Telegram last month after collecting evidence that many channels on the messaging app had been promoting extremist ideologies, including some linked to the extremist group IS.

On Wednesday, Rudiantara met Jeff Wu, Facebook’s Asia Pacific Representative, and received assurances that the social-networking giant would include a new feature called “geoblocking” on its pages, allowing users to flag negative content, Semuel said.

He said negative content would include material considered to be pornographic, radical, terrorist, hateful speech as well as fake accounts and fake news.

“There is special content that will not be accessible in Indonesia with the existence of this geoblocking feature,” Semuel said.

He said Facebook, which has an estimated 80 million users in Indonesia, would improve its procedure of handling complaints about negative content by hiring employees based in Jakarta.

Threatening to infringe

Such moves by the government to crackdown on content deemed as problematic online alarmed human rights activists, who warned that this threatened to infringe on free speech.

“The government has exceeded its authority,” the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) said in a statement last month.

Indonesia is a major source of digital advertising revenue for Google and Facebook. Tax officials have been quoted in local reports as saying that the two online giants accounted for about 70 percent of the U.S. $830 million in estimated online revenue from the country in 2015.

Two months ago, Indonesia reached a tax settlement with Google for 2016 after senior tax officials said they planned to pursue the company for five years of back taxes, which could include a bill of more than $400 million for 2015 alone, Reuters reported.

Officials declined to disclose the figure in the settlement.

Marathon meetings

On Wednesday, Rudiantara met Jeff Wu, Facebook’s Asia Pacific representative, and received assurances that the social-networking giant would include a new feature called “geoblocking” on its pages, allowing users to flag negative content, Semuel said.

He said negative content would include pornography, radicalism, terrorism, fake accounts, hoax news and hate speech.

“There is special content that will not be accessible in Indonesia with the existence of this geoblocking feature,” Semuel said.

He said Facebook, which has an estimated 80 million users in Indonesia, would improve its procedure of handling complaints about negative content by hiring employees based in Jakarta.

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