Source: Prabowo Subianto Twitter account.

[Indonesia] Disruption of social media access leads to control over flow of information

Authorities restricted social media access in Indonesia after post-election protests turned violent early this week. Supporters of retired military general Prabowo Subianto are challenging the results of the elections that confirmed incumbent President Joko Widodo.

Messaging app WhatsApp and social networking site Facebook backend servers have been partially blocked in Indonesia as of 22 May 2019, NetBlocks said in a report.

NetBlocks is a civil society organization that works on digital rights, cybersecurity, and internet governance.

Telkom and XL Axiata Tbk “have implemented the restrictions,” the group said. “Facebook backends used by services including Facebook Messenger and Instagram also appear to be among those affected. Telegram includes censorship circumvention measures, although users have already reported difficulty with the messaging app.”

Other reports say that access to certain features of internet services were limited due to throttling, which is the intentional slowing of available bandwidth. Communications Minister Rudiantara said in a press briefing that uploading or downloading videos on WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram will slowdown from 22 May 2019 up to the next two days. (Instagram, Facebook also throttled to limit spread of false information on May 22 protest violence)

The Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI, Alliance of Independent Journalists) in a statement called on the government to lift the restriction of social media access immediately.

“We demand the government to respect public’s rights to receive information. While we understand the government’s intention to stop the distribution of false information and protect the public during violent protests, the decision has also inadvertently restricted public’s access to factual information,” AJI said.

This is not the first time the Indonesian government has blocked access to internet services and websites. Some recent and notable cases of blocking include:

  • About 800,000 websites containing pornographic materials or gambling sites were blocked by the Indonesian government as of December 2016. (Indonesia blocks 800,000 websites)
  • Some 70,000 more websites with “negative” content like pornography or extremist ideology were blocked in the first month of implementation in January 2018 of a new “crawling system” called “Cyber Drone 9” which was developed by state-run Telekomunikasi Indonesia Tbk (Telkom) to search and alert “inappropriate” materials online. (New Indonesia web system blocks more than 70,000 ‘negative’ sites)
  • Indonesia has also blocked several online services like video streaming service Netflix, video sharing platforms Vimeo and Youtube, online forum site reddit, and image sharing site Imgur. (Netflix is latest victim: 5 things censored in Indonesia)
  • In 2016, the data from the Ministry of Communication and Information, also known as Kominfo, showed that 11 DNS and three IP addresses that have ties with LGBT groups were blocked. There were also 71 LGBT smartphone applications blocked, along with 12 DNS and 169 LGBT websites in 2017. ([Indonesia] Fading Rainbows on the Net)

In Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net annual study, Indonesia remains “partly free” with scores ranging from 41 to 47 since 2011.

“Internet freedom in Indonesia improved slightly in the past year due to decreasing violent attacks and threats against citizens for their online activities compared to the previous year,” Freedom House said in its 2018 report. “Nevertheless, censorship of online content remained prevalent.”

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