Indonesian fact-checkers fight disinformation amid internet shutdown

MANILA, Philippines – More than a week has passed since the Indonesian government imposed an internet blackout in Papua, its easternmost province, and its fact-checkers are bearing the brunt.

On August 22, the Indonesian government started slowing down internet services following riots in Papua. The government completely shut down services in the region the next day in an attempt to curb separatism protests that ensued after the detention of 43 Papuan university students. (READ: Thousands riot in Papua, parliament building torched)

The Indonesian government responded to the violent demonstrations by deploying more troops to the region. It also blocked the internet service there to stop online hoaxes on the issue from spreading and triggering more protests, the government said. (READ: Indonesia's Papua hit by fresh unrest as troops deployed)

But the internet shutdown in Papua also raised the issue of a possible cover up of human rights abuses. More than that, it caused an information blackout, which the country’s fact-checkers are currently grappling with.

“We have many pieces of content about Papua that are allegedly false and provocative. But because of internet restriction, our work has been hampered,” Ika Ningtyas, a fact-checker from Indonesian online news portal Tempo.co, told Poynter. “We cannot contact or dig up information from several sources in Papua and the telephone network is also difficult in some areas.”

As if the situation wasn't hard enough, Indonesian fact-checkers are now also dealing with the public’s response to the idea of having a new capital before the separatism protests have even died down, Poynter said.

On August 26, President Joko Widodo said Indonesia is shifting its capital from Jakarta to Borneo island, which is globally known to have a rich biodiversity.

Because of concerns regarding funding and environmental issues, Poynter said many conversations that revolve around the topic are being shared on WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter. The bad side? This includes a number of unverified information – which the fact-checkers are expected to debunk.

Tempo.co is one of the 5 fact-checking organizations registered with the International Fact Checkers Network (IFCN) at Poynter, a forum for fact-checkers worldwide to "support fact-checking initiatives by promoting best practices and exchanges" in the journalism industry.

The 4 other organizations in Indonesia that were deemed compliant with IFCN’s principles are: Hoaks Atau Fakta? of Kompas.com, Tirto.id, Cek Fakta of Liputan 6, and Mafindo.

In the Philippines, Rappler is one of the two verified IFCN signatories, along with Vera Files. – Pauline Macaraeg/Rappler.com