Indonesia has seen a flood of fake news spread across social media lately. The Southeast Asian nation officially announced on January 5 its intention to set up an agency that will combat the spread of fake news. One of the fake news stories recently spread through Indonesia, was a claim that China was waging biological warfare against the nation using contaminated chili seeds. Indonesia's new cyber agency will seek to protect state institutions from hackers as well, according to presidential spokesman, Johan Budi.
The move to create the new agency in Indonesia was necessary, said Chief Security Minister Wiranto, in order to combat the flood of fake news on social media that was 'slanderous, fake, misleading' and spreading 'hate'. He said, 'Freedom [of speech] is a right in democracy but there is also an obligation to obey the law.'
The new agency's task will be to monitor news circulating online, particularly on social media, according to officials. The security ministry will oversee the operation, working alongside other government agencies.
The move to create the new agency came after Indonesia's President Joko Widodo declared in a cabinet meeting in December 2016 his intention to combat the spread of fake news at a time when many Indonesians are getting online for the first time. There are reportedly over 130 million out of 255 million inhabitants now estimated to be online in Indonesia.
The most high-profile fake news story spread in Indonesia to date was a false claim that China was seeking to wage biological warfare against Indonesia, after a story was spread in December stating that four Chinese citizens were arrested for using imported chili seeds infected with bacteria on a farm south of Jakarta.
The fake news story forced the Chinese embassy in Jakarta to issue a statement insisting that the reports were 'misleading and have caused great concerns'. Another fake news story involving China said that millions of Chinese workers had entered Indonesia to replace local ones. It comes as anti-Chinese sentiment is running high with Jakarta's ethnic Chinese governor standing trial for alleged blasphemy.
Indonesian internet expert Nukman Luthfie hopes that the new Indonesian agency will not breach people's privacy, but said it was too early to tell. ""It would be really unfortunate if it was going to be used to monitor public discussions because that's people's right,"" he said.