The Facebook wall of Adil Al Ahsan is full of information about the family background of Joko Widodo ahead of the 2019 Presidential Election. Out of curiosity, Adil hastily clicked on the link. He was very surprised when reading the information that the family of Joko Widodo was related to the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). “I was shocked. After reading, I wondered if Jokowi is really affiliated with a banned party,” said Adil when contacted by Jaring.id on Thursday, February 17, 2022.
Even so, Adil admitted that he did not immediately believe the information. He tried to find other sources of information and found news from the national media, which confirmed that Jokowi had nothing to do with the communist party. “I was born in 1961. The PKI existed in 1965. I was four years old at the time. How did a toddler become a member of communist party? This is not true,” Jokowi clarified in September 2018.
“It turned out to be false news after it was clarified,” said Adil.
Faiz Miftahul Huda also experienced the same thing. In the 2019 presidential election, he received a lot of information about the support of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Muhammad Ali for presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto. At that time, Faiz got a picture showing the wrestler and boxer wearing a shirt with the image of Prabowo-Sandiaga Uno. “I got the information from a WhatsApp group of mosque congregations in my neighborhood,” he told Jaring.id on Thursday, February 17, 2022.
Faiz then tried to verify the photo. From the search results, the student of a state university in Surabaya found pictures with the same face, but different backgrounds. “I filter the information first before I can trust it,” said Faiz.
After receiving the correct information, Faiz then shared the image with the WhatsApp Group. “I understand very well that information and propaganda are always made,” he said.
Approaching the political year in 2024, Adil and Faiz suspect that the circulation of hoaxes will be more rampant than in 2019. They try to anticipate this information by reading credible and verified media reports. “The era of disruption is inevitable. If the information and reporting is not logical at the first glance, then it is not true. We can check it on the news first whether there is such information,” he said.
In the last presidential election, the Ministry of Communication and Informatics recorded 2,256 hoaxes on various social media platforms from August 2018 to September 2019. Of this number, 916 of them were classified as political hoaxes. Meanwhile, the Indonesian Anti-Defamation Society in its report revealed 997 hoaxes in 2018 with 488 of them were hoaxes related to politics. Meanwhile, in January 2019, there were 109 hoaxes, including 58 hoaxes about politics.
A fact checker from Anti Defamation Society (Mafindo), Adi Syafitrah, said that there was a lot of inaccurate political information conveyed by politicians in the period of 2019 Election. Not only that, the spread of political hoaxes is also rife on social media during the democratic event. “Since the 2019 presidential election until now, the issue of the election has continued,” said Fitrah during an online discussion entitled “Collaboration to Prevent Hoaxes ahead of the 2024 Election” organized by the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), the Indonesian Cyber Media Association (AMSI), and Mafindo on Thursday, February 17, 2022.
Election Commission Reviews the Regulation
The General Elections Commission (KPU) said it was aware of the rampant hoaxes during the 2019 Presidential Election. Even two years before the 2024 General Election, the KPU is already facing fake news with narratives that discredit election organizers. Among the issues is that the election schedule is being pushed back from 2024 to 2027. In fact, the government and the DPR agreed not to revise Law Number 7 of 2017 concerning General Elections. Therefore, the elections must be held simultaneously in 2024. In its official statement, the KPU stated that the hoax news emerged after there was a discourse on the revision of Law No. 7/2017 on Elections and Law No. 10/2016 on Regional Head Elections.
“It is necessary to think about how to anticipate it. We are trying to improve a number of crucial regulations,” said KPU member, I Dewa Kade Wiarsa Raka Sandi, on Thursday, February 17, 2022.
One of the regulations that the KPU is currently reviewing, according to him, is related to the dissemination of information as part of the education for voters. In this regulation, a campaign mechanism on social media will be regulated. “We are preparing the regulation. The public are welcome to provide input because it is still an ongoing process,” he said.
The KPU is also trying to prevent the circulation of fake news by signing a memorandum of understanding with the Election Supervisory Body (Bawaslu), the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI), the Press Council, AMSI, and other institutions. In addition, the KPU plans to create a fact-checking page, so that the public can choose the correct information. “Collaboration is important to prevent hoaxes. The KPU cannot do it alone,” said Sandi.
Chairman of Bawaslu, Fritz Edward Siregar, urged the KPU to immediately issue specific regulations to prevent the circulation of hoaxes, hate speech, as well as ethnicity, religion and race between groups. “In conducting the campaign, it is forbidden to play against each other. The prevailing regulation by KPU and other existing regulations do not stipulate hate speech and fake news,” said Fritz.
In addition to regulations from election administrators, it is important for digital technology companies to conduct geo blocking or efforts to counteract negative content. According to Fritz, technology companies must be responsible for the social tools they create. “They need to be held accountable for the elections and local elections in 2024,” he said.
Sharing a similar opinion with Fritz, Director of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) Khoirunnisa Nur Agustyati also urged election organizers to make strict rules regarding the use of social media. She did not want the impact of the fake news on the 2019 election to happen again in 2024. “People still feel the impact of the 2019 campaign, even until now,” said Khoirunnisa.
Throughout the previous presidential election campaign, Perludem saw the practice of attacking each other, black campaigning, negativity, fake news, and slander through social media. This condition really happened although it is not in accordance with Article 267 of Law Number 7 of 2017 concerning Elections.
The regulation states that the election campaign is part of political education for the public and is carried out responsibly. However, what happened is that social media is used as a means to spread messages related to ethnicity, race and religion between groups. “The challenges of the 2024 election will be more complicated, there will be elections of regional leaders as well. At the same time, the election law has not been revised,” she said.
According to Khoirunnisa, it is time for the KPU to take big steps to monitor the content of social media campaigns. This is because the restrictions on the number of accounts in the election of governors, regents and mayors that have been carried out are not effective. “The problem is not in the number of accounts, but in the contents,” she said. She hopes that the regulations that the KPU is currently working on can regulate campaign funds for each party and candidate on social media. “Policy about the flow of campaign funds for the advertising on social media has not been regulated properly. Is it recorded in the campaign financial report? It’s not transparent,” she added.
Not only in Indonesia, elections in other countries are often marred by fake news. In 2018 in Malaysia, for example, there was fake news saying that if a voter gives a checkmark that crosses outside the column lines, the vote will be invalid. This hoax was spread on Facebook.
Since fake news continued to proliferate, Malaysia had passed the 2018 Anti-Fake News Law just a few weeks before the then Prime Minister Najib Razak lost the May 2018 election. However, in October 2019, the Malaysian Parliament annulled the law about “making fake news is a crime”. The law is seen by critics as curbing dissent. The reason is that the law in the country, which will hold elections in July 2022, stipulates a fine of up to 500,000 ringgit or around Rp. 1.6 billion and a maximum prison sentence of six years.
While in the Philippines, the form of disinformation circulating in the 2016 election was the claims of support that Duterte received from world figures such as Pope Francis, celebrities, and even Queen Elizabeth. There are also claims that Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was inspired by Duterte. Under the instructions of his social media manager, Nic Gabunada, Duterte’s campaign allegedly employed an army of internet trolls tasked with “strengthening” his message online. After the election, Facebook shut down at least 200 accounts linked to Duterte’s social media strategy. A similar condition is allegedly going to be repeated in the presidential election on May 9, 2022.
Like the Philippines, Timor Leste also faces the same problem. The neighboring country that will hold presidential elections this month is distraught in facing hoaxes and hate speech. The Executive Director of the Timor Leste Press Council, Rigoberto Monteiro, stated that the spread of content related to hoaxes and hate speech was very fast. “The spread of hoaxes is the biggest ‘disease’ in Timor Leste,” said Rigoberto Monteiro when contacted by Jaring.id on Friday, February 18, 2022.
Timor Leste will hold elections on March 19, 2022. Two candidates will appear in the democracy event. Ramos-Horta, who is backed by the Timor-Leste National Congress for Reconstruction (CNRT), will face Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres, who is backed by the Fretilin Party, Deputy Prime Minister Armanda Berta dos Santos, and former Catholic priest Martinho Germano da Silva Gusmao.
According to Rigoberto, the hoaxes produced by each supporter group include changing the statements of presidential candidates that do not match the facts. After that, the hoax makers will spread it to Youtube and Facebook channels. “So, disinformation and hate speech have started since the candidates appeared,” he said.
Another thing that weighs on the task of the Timor Leste Press Council is the affiliation of the media and journalists to one of the presidential candidates. According to Rigoberto, this condition worsened the political situation in Timor Leste. “That’s a lot and will be big during the campaign period. It affects journalistic work,” he said.
To prevent that, the Press Council has established cooperation with universities to train students to identify hoax news. Until January 2022, at least 300 of the target 2000 students have attended the training. “Once they have participated in the training, they will establish a network. We also provide training for journalists. We are forming an alliance to prevent disinformation,” he said.
One of the studies that explores the circulation of hoaxes in Southeast Asia is conducted by the Head Lecturer of Monash University, Indonesia, Ika Idris. In her research titled “Fake News and Elections in Two Southeast Asian Nations: A Comparative Study of Malaysia General Election 2018 and Indonesian Presidential Election 2019”, Ika reveals several strategies used by cyber teams of each pair of candidates to win the election.
The first one is “amplifying the message”. Through this approach, the cyber team creates fake and genuine accounts. The goal is to spread the messages produced to the voters. The second one is called “a strategy that targets well-known accounts”. “All of this is to provoke emotions and raise opinions,” said Ika to Jaring.id on Friday, February 18, 2022.
According to Ika, there are two types of hoaxes that can be identified, namely the content that is classified as ‘fabricated content’ and ‘plagiarized content’. Fabricated content means that the content was made by machines and is homogenous. While plagiarized content is done by modifying the quote, then reproducing it. “Our conclusion is that the cyber army and cyber truth during the general election is a digital propaganda strategy,” she said.
In Malaysia, Ika gave an example, the pattern of spreading hoaxes was organized and attacked in all directions. Meanwhile, Indonesia tends to have many field coordinators who are organized by certain groups. “This means that the network has a lot of leaders, but it will narrow down to one account or several specific accounts indicating where the message came from. The goal is to control opinion,” said Ika.
Therefore, Ika said that digital literacy for the public is not enough. It takes certainty from digital technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms to ensure content that leads to religious, ethnic, racial, identity and hoax sentiments is not easily spread. “In the election period, the spread of hoaxes got worse. They use the scheme of targeted advertising, like Facebook and Instagram. The audience can be targeted and the market can be selected. The platform is able to detect this. Therefore, the platform must be transparent,” she stressed.
In addition, election organizers must also have the courage to impose sanctions, including forbidding them to campaign, Ika said.
Collaboration to Prevent Hoax
The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) of Indonesia has begun to encourage the media to collaborate on fact-checking to prevent hoaxes during the 2024 Presidential Election. According to the Secretary of AJI Indonesia, Ika Ningtyas, collaboration is crucial because the current fact-checking efforts will face serious challenges. Apart from the unfinished Covid-19 pandemic, fact checkers also often get digital attacks. “This is increasingly worrying. Attacks like this came in 2020 and it continues to increase,” Ika said on Thursday, February 17, 2022.
Until now, there are 24 media that are incorporated in Cekfakta.com. According to Ika, the work of journalists should be supported by the community. “It takes collaboration, especially with local media to welcome the general election,” she said.
AJI invites fact-checkers from civil society and academia to collaborate in facing the 2024 election season. “Fact checkers are not limited to journalists. Therefore, it must be done holistically. In addition to strengthening the ecosystem in the media, our friends in the fact-checking collaboration have made many educational and training programs. by working together with civil society,” said Ika.
Meanwhile, Secretary General of the Indonesian Cyber Media Association (AMSI), Wahyu Dhyatmika, revealed that hoax production is currently increasingly sophisticated. The content being created already involves machines with an algorithmic approach. “If it is not being well anticipated, the post truth group can influence the majority,” he said.
Therefore, fact-checkers must be able to balance and be prepared long before the election takes place. “The elections ahead will be more complicated, because there are still remnants from the polarization that occurred over the last 5 years,” he said.
In order to be able to run an ecosystem of fact checkers, AMSI, Mafindo, and AJI have developed guidelines and principles as a working basis. “In principle, we remain independent and impartial, with participatory and collegial collaboration, ensuring transparency and democracy,” Wahyu continued.
Meanwhile, the Press Council claimed to have collaborated with general election organizers and the police to uncover political hoaxes. The Press Council will also take part when there is news reporting regarding hoaxes, hate speech, to those concerning identity issues. According to the Head of the Legal and Legislation Division of the Press Council, Agung Dharmajaya, his party will quickly assist in the reporting process to the Press Council during the election. “The mechanism for press disputes is less than 1 x 24 hours. We work simultaneously. We have to finish testing the content and the media. Then, the result of the testing will be forwarded to Bawaslu as a recommendation,” said Agung.
However, the Press Council reminded that parties who were disadvantaged from political reporting should not report to the Police. This is because all press disputes need to be resolved at the Press Council in accordance with the Press Law Number 40 of 1999 concerning the Press and the MoU on the Police and the Press Council. “Sometimes, a report to the police is affected by the interests of stakeholders. If the Press Law is recognized, it is agreed that we should use the procedure of ‘the right to reply’ . If it is not finished, we can go to the Press Council,” said Agung.
Apart from emphasizing regulation and collaboration, the Press Council also warns journalists when reporting on the election. According to him, journalists and media should not be dragged into the contest, either by spreading or producing hoaxes. “The role of the media is to provide information, education, and social interests,” said Agung.
Bawaslu and KPU support the collaborative efforts of the press. They hope that journalists can uphold the democratic process in the presidential and regional head elections in 2024. “We expect journalists to help, the election commission cannot do it alone,” Dewa Kade Wiarsa Raka Sandi concluded. (Abdus Somad)