TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - It is the job of the police to discover the identity of the criminals in this network spreading hoaxes. This obligation should be carried out properly, so the police do not end up making baseless accusations, which would themselves count as false claims.
The police claim to have discovered the people spreading the hoaxes operating in the WhatsApp virtual chat network called the Muslim Cyber Army. This group is known as The Family Cyber Army. Police investigators should be able to prove this accusation by finding evidence of a structured plan to spread hoaxes on a massive scale.
Digital chat platforms such as WhatsApp provide facilities that enable many people to join in group discussions. Members of these chat groups can post information, including hoaxes, which then spread to other virtual discussion groups. Not all these people have bad motives. After all, in cyberspace people tend to use hyperbole to attract the attention of others, for example when criticizing the government.
It is here that the police must work extra hard to discover any links between The Family Cyber Army and criminal acts. Investigators must also seek detailed information about how the group functions, who is behind it and what its motives are. Without convincing evidence, the case will remain unresolved, as happened when the police claimed to have uncovered the Saracen network.
In the Saracen case, the police gave the impression they had found evidence that the group had a political motive to bring down President Joko Widodo's administration. It was claimed that Saracen spread false information and attempted to provoke negative sentiments by posting issues about ethnicity, religion and race on social media. Saracen was said to own a website with an organization behind it that included attorney Eggi Sudjana and retired military officer Ampi Tanudjiwa. But these names were only mentioned by Jasriadi, a car rental businessman said to be the Saracen chair.
In the trials of Jasriadi and Sri Rahayu Ningsih, a housewife and Saracen member, no evidence emerged showing that Saracen was a structured organization with a political motive. The only wrongdoing proven was an incitement to hatred through social media hoaxes. Jasriadi was found guilty of breaking the Electronic Transactions and Information Law, a law viewed as problematic by pro-democracy activists when it was first passed.
In this social media era, people's clarity of thought is constantly being tested. These platforms make it possible for anyone to provide information, both valuable and worthless. Everybody knows that fake news on the Internet can be very dangerous in the real world. For example, in March a man in scruffy clothes was beaten to death by a mob in Cilegon. He had been accused of kidnapping children, which had not actually happened but had been reported on social media. Not every hoax, however, is related to crime.
In this case, the police need to act cautiously so their efforts to combat hoaxes do not limit people's right to freedom of expression. Democracy gives people the right to express harsh criticism of the government.
Read the full article in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine