The Indonesian government has restricted social media access following deadly riots after the results of the nation’s presidential election. According to reports, this move was allegedly in response to the spread of misleading information and hoaxes on social media about the nature of the riots and the people who participated in them.
TechCrunch reports that access to social media platforms — especially Facebook-owned ones — like Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook have been limited for users in Indonesia. However, users have reported that these platforms are still accessible via WiFi or on mobile data through a VPN (virtual private network).
Indonesian chief security minister Wiranto said that that the government has limited access to certain features on the social media platforms. These features include the ability to upload videos or photos, with users even reporting difficulty sending such content through WhatsApp. Users have reported difficulty when sending photos, videos and even voice messages through the service.
A spokesperson from Facebook told TechCrunch that they are aware of the ongoing security situation in Jakarta and “have been responsive to the government of Indonesia.” The spokesperson said that they are committed to maintaining all their services for the people who “rely on them to communicate with loved ones and access vital information”, though they didn’t explicitly confirm the restrictions by the government.
Riots broke out in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta last night killing at least six people and injuring over 200 others. This came shortly after President Joko Widodo was declared the winner during the 2019 Indonesian General Elections — a result that his challenger Prabowo Subianto contests. The defeated candidate said that he would challenge the result in the constitutional court.
This isn’t the first time social media has been restricted by a country’s government. Just last month, Sri Lanka cut off access to social media after a terror attack claimed the lives of over 200 people.
A grim reminder
Situations like these come as a grim reminder of how truly powerful — and scary — social media is in our modern society. While these can be important tools to help victims contact their family members, there are also large swathes of people who seize these tragic times as an opportunity to spread fear and misinformation.
What do you do in a situation like this? Cut off all access and keep people in the dark to curb the spread of misinformation? Or do you let it play out and hope the people can differentiate between the real and the fake?