No More Propaganda in Papua
Facebook has closed hundreds of accounts and pages involved in computational propaganda about Papua. This is a good way to oppose disinformation campaigns.
IF the government is serious about finding the best solution to the Papuan problem, the communication and informatics ministry should support the endeavor by Facebook to rid the site of computer-generated propaganda about Papua. One way is to trace the source of the funds and the people behind the spreading of this information about the situation in Papua and the pro-independence movement there.
So far, Facebook has only announced that propaganda about Papua on its network originates from InsightID, a social media consulting company based in Jakarta. It is this company that has paid for advertisements to spread information which were published on 69 Facebook accounts and pages as well as 34 Instagram accounts. At the beginning of October, all these accounts were closed. An investigation by this magazine uncovered efforts by InsightID to conceal its digital traces.
Before being closed down by Facebook, the network was active in promoting information from a number of bogus news websites. The value of ads related to their content is totaled US$300,000 or around Rp4.2 billion. However, these sites often imitate the look of credible news sites, and some of them even disguise themselves as news websites well known in Papua. Although they use the English name ‘West Papua’, which is identified with the pro-independence movement, much of their content promotes programs and activities of the Indonesian government in the areas of economics, social affairs and politics in Papua.
The move by Facebook closing these accounts deserves support. Social media should be an arena for open conversations on issues important to the public. The quality of our interactions on social media will decline if there are fake accounts, bots or other computer-generated content intentionally made to promote a particular opinion. This kind of propaganda will only add to the confusion and could even worsen the conflict.
Other social media companies should take the same kind of measures. An investigative report by the UK’s BBC and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute uncovered a network of bots on Twitter also spreading false information as part of pro-Indonesian government propaganda about Papua. Their network was also supported by bot accounts on Twitter that amplified messages from their main account.
The computational propaganda phenomenon that makes use of automatization and bot accounts, algorithms designed to ensure massive distribution of information, and the use of big data to target a particular group of people is a significant threat to democracy. Research by the Oxford Institute that was released at the end of September also found that this trend was present in around 70 countries with different variations. If this is allowed to continue, this way of spreading information will reduce public trust in the media and other democratic institutions.
Therefore, the government must not remain silent. The funds and resources used by InsightID cannot have come only from that organization. The brains behind it and the supplier of funds must be exposed. The propaganda that they released is very dangerous at a time when the security situation in Papua is still very tense after the bloody clashes in Wamena and Jayapura in September.
Facebook’s endeavor could also become a model for ridding the platform of disinformation campaigns. After all, it has been proven that the way the government and the police seemed to be using the provisions of the Electronic Information and Transactions Law as a way of censoring context judged to be hoax, in fact threatens our freedom of expression.