In the ballroom located on the eighth floor of Ayani Hotel in Banda Aceh, more than twenty people gathered, sitting around round tables occupied by four to six people each. Most of them wore official clothes with the logo of the Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu). They were participating in a workshop on misinformation and disinformation on Tuesday, February 21, 2023.
Election organizers, especially in Banda Aceh City, are enhancing their capacity to recognize hoaxes, which are generally divided into three categories: disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation, ahead of the 2024 elections. “It is important that we prevent hoaxes together so that elections in Banda Aceh can run smoothly,” said Raudhatul Jannah, a volunteer of the Indonesian Anti-Slander Society (Mafindo) in Aceh.
In addition to Raudhatul, Destika Gilang Lestari, Program Assistant of the Aceh Anti-Corruption Movement (GerAK), Rizki Amanda, and Farah Kamilatunnuha held a microphone to speak to the participants. “Although they are young, they are the alumni of the anti-hoax school. So, they already have the capacity to speak in front of us,” said Gilang.
Young people, especially Generation Z who were born as digital natives, were deliberately involved in GerAK Aceh activities to prevent the circulation of hoaxes ahead of the 2024 General Election. Mafindo data shows that the majority (92.40%) of hoax content is spread through social media. Of that number, about 62.80% were spread through various chat applications; and 34.90% through websites. Meanwhile, around 62.10% of hoax distribution is in the form of writing; 37.50% in the form of images; and 0.40% in the form of videos.
In recent years, public discussions related to the dangers of hoaxes have been held more frequently in Aceh. The results of a survey by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) released in January 2018 named Aceh as one of three provinces in Indonesia with a very high level of hoax exposure. The other two provinces are West Java and Banten.
The issuance of Fatwa of the Aceh Ulema Consultative Assembly (MPU) Number 6 of 2018 concerning the Spread of Hoaxes and Their Impacts seems to emphasize that the issue of hoaxes in Aceh cannot be taken lightly, considering that the 2019 elections have resulted in the community being polarized into groups of “cebong” and “kampret.”
“The level of public literacy in understanding whether or not information circulating is true or not is also not all good. So, MPU Aceh tries to study this phenomenon from three points of view: positive law, culture, and MPU’s authority,” explained the Chairman of MPU Aceh, Tgk. H. Faisal Ali, in his office on Friday, February 24, 2023.
This condition inspired GerAK Aceh to launch the “Democracy Resilience” program in 2021. One of the activities is citizen journalism training. “One of the factors in the collapse of democracy is the number of hoaxes that cause turmoil in society. So, the more citizens who understand the dangers of hoaxes, the better our democracy index will be,” said Gilang in Banda Aceh, Monday, February 20, 2023.
This program, according to Gilang, has given birth to two large coalitions, namely the Inclusion Coalition and the Young Democracy Coalition (Kamu Demres). The Inclusion Coalition targets individuals from various walks of life, such as disability groups, minorities, ethnic Chinese, and women’s groups. Meanwhile, Kamu Demres targets young people who are concerned about issues of change.
GerAK also gave birth to the Aceh Anti-Hoax Society (MAHA). “The spirit is doing what we can do to strengthen our democracy, one of which is by strengthening the civilian element, the inclusion community, and young people,” she said.
In April 2022, Mafindo organized a fact-checking training for women in Aceh. The result was the formation of the Aceh Province Healthy Information Ecosystem Association (Pesat) in July 2022. Later, Gilang was trusted to be the Regional Coordinator of Mafindo Aceh. These communities then collaborate to spread information about the dangers of hoaxes.
Adopting two of Mafindo’s activities, anti-hoax volunteers in Aceh conducted ‘Tular Nalar’ (spreading common sense) activities for the elderly through the Digital Lansia Academy (ADL) program. This activity has only reached the city of Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar district. In Aceh Besar, the Tular Nalar activity was carried out in Gampong Bineh Blang, Ingin Jaya District with the theme Hoaxes and Money Politics for the Women’s Community on Tuesday, January 3, 2023.
Rizki Amanda, who currently serves as the MAHA Coordinator, found “interesting” things from Bineh Blang. After the presentation of material from two young volunteers, Uli Rahmati and Fazil Rinaldi, “suddenly a middle-aged woman raised her hand and told me that she and several residents were asked for ID cards to support a presidential candidate in the 2024 elections. This is clearly misinformation because we all know that we don’t need to collect ID cards to vote or support a presidential candidate,” she said.
However, since the residents did not understand, they gave copies of their ID cards voluntarily because they felt they clicked with the figure of the presidential candidate being peddled by political parties. Worse still, residents remain clueless that until now there has been no nomination of presidential candidates from the Indonesian General Election Commission. “The submission of copies of ID cards has the potential to be misused,” she said. Meanwhile, Tular Nalar in Banda Aceh City targeted two villages or gampong, Gampong Ateuk Pahlawan and Gampong Punge, with the theme of Digital Economy.
Gilang is concerned that many residents are victims of digital fraud, such as requests for money transfers to participate in project auctions, fake incidents of child ransom, fraud under the guise of gifts, and online shopping. “Generally, the victims are elderly people whose level of digital literacy or financial literacy is still low,” she said.
As told by Gilang, one of the victims they met during the Tular Nalar activity was a middle-aged woman who worked as a laundry worker. She was deceived by the lure of winning a prize with a redemption fee of Rp500 thousand. “However, since she had no money, she was forced to owe her neighbor to transfer to the person who claimed to be the organizer of the prize,” Gilang said.
“So, it wasn’t just the mother, her son was also deceived because the false message went through her son. And this is not just one case. Some other victims have even transferred two million, five million, tens of millions rupiah. This scam would not have been discovered if we don’t carry out a program like this,” she continued.
The second activity was a national school targeting first-time voters in the 2024 elections. At least two campuses have been visited, namely UIN Ar-Raniry and Kutaraja Polytechnic in Banda Aceh. During the dissemination, the volunteers emphasized to the participants to be able to curate which one is called information and which one is not. The students were also taught to check the source of information, ensure the authenticity of photos and videos, and the adverse effects when utilizing free or public internet.
“Last but not least, when you receive a message or phone call informing you that a family member has been arrested by the police or had an accident, don’t panic. Don’t rush to believe it. Ask other family members or neighbors first,” said Gilang, since such a scenario was just one of many modes of scams.
The community’s enthusiasm for these hoax prevention programs, according to Gilang, is very high. Previously, there was no community that concentrated specifically on hoax prevention programs. “There are still challenges in the field, such as operational costs, but it does not dampen the enthusiasm of the volunteers to educate the community,” she said.
Even so, anti-hoax volunteers are committed to continuing to help the community curate election-related information. In the near future, Gilang said, they will socialize anti-hoax in several villages at once, including Gampong Ateuk Pahlawan, Gampong Ilie, Gampong Punge Blang Cut, and Gampong Merduati in Banda Aceh City, and Gampong Lambadeuk in Aceh Besar.
“The point is collaboration because this kind of ‘work of change’ cannot be done solely by one party. And more importantly, we must involve young people because when it comes to digital technology, they understand best. These young people have great potential and they must be given the opportunity to be creative in their own ways,” she said.
Back in 2017, political heat during the Jakarta gubernatorial election has undeniably affected other regions, including Maluku. The election, which was supposed to be a democratic party for the citizens of the capital, instead divided the community into two opposing camps, the supporters of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) and Anies Baswedan (Anies).
In Maluku, Abidin Wakano, through the Ambon Reconciliation Mediation Center (ARMC) IAIN Ambon, took the initiative to create a network of young muslim preachers in Maluku to fight hoaxes and hate speech. The movement starts from the pulpits of mosques through sermons that are not provocative. Young religious leaders are also asked to utilize social media as a means of preaching by calling for a cool and tolerant concept of Islam.
Abidin, a cleric who once served as the chairman of the Maluku Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), is well aware of the many complaints related to sermons that are filled with hate speech and provoke the public. Ahead of the general election, various activities were carried out involving the community. There were cross-community discussions and workshops. The participants received material on digital literacy as well as practices to counteract hoaxes.
“We do not openly show political attitudes and choices. Instead, we always remind the the public to be aware and be careful with provocateurs with political interests,” said Abidin, who is also one of the initiators of the Provocateur Peace movement in an article published by the Indonesian Media Development Association (PPMN) through the Citizens Against Hoax website.
On February 10, the work entitled “Anti Hoax Movement from Places of Worship to Public Spaces” was exhibited in a public discussion of “Citizens Against Disinformation” at the Goethe Institute Jakarta. There were at least 250 works that voiced citizen initiatives against hoaxes in various regions, including Aceh, Ambon, Jakarta, Garut and Bandung.
In Bandung, young people have organized various initiatives against intolerance, including the threat of hoaxes, ranging from discussions on diversity to political literacy classes. They get together in a community called the Interfaith Working Network or Jakatarub.
Since its establishment 22 years ago, Jakatarub has become a forum for young people with diverse backgrounds to learn to practice tolerance. Discussions and dialogs are routine activities for its members. There are also various programs and activities that involve communities or grassroots groups. Youth Interfaith Camp is one of the group’s annual programs.
In addition to the issue of diversity, Jakatarub also mentioned a digital literacy campaign called WIFI (Wakening of Interfaith Initiative). This digital literacy education program targets various communities to learn to understand digital rights. In July 2022, Jakatarub held a WIFI on the theme of digitalization of community management with a human rights approach, in collaboration with Nawang Wulan Center for Peace Development Studies (PSPP).
Ina, a citizen journalist from Indonesian People’s Struggle Union (SPRI) Jakarta, never gets tired in providing understanding and training for housewives in her area regarding fake news. Ina told how mothers who carry a double burden are trapped in hoaxes. Among others, related to the provision of social assistance from the government. During the Covid-19 Pandemic, according to Ina, not a few fake news circulated through social media, especially in Whatsapp groups. “The lure of easy business capital loans often becomes a scam scenario to trap people who are struggling with economic hardship,” she said.
Therefore, Ina was eager to apply the knowledge she gained from digital literacy training. After understanding the steps to verify information, she was able to produce alternative ideas to counter the fake news circulating.
The actions by Ina, GerAK Aceh, ARMC, and Jakatarub are just a few of the many good initiatives of citizens against hoaxes in the regions. PPMN Deputy Director Fransisca Ria Susanti hopes that similar initiatives will continue to spread in order to banish the massive attack of hoaxes ahead of the 2024 elections. The Ministry of Communication and Information recorded 9,417 hoax findings between August 2018 and February 16, 2023.
“Many initiatives have emerged, such as cekfakta.com. Mafindo also conducts training not only for journalists. However, we don’t want the war drums we beat against hoaxes to be a counterpunch to us, because the government can also use it to muzzle or arrest people who criticize,” said Fransisca, Friday, February 10, 2023. (Ihan Nurdin, Abdus Somad)