Holistic approaches key to fighting disinformation

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The graft case involving former communication and information minister Johnny G Plate in the government’s 4G internet connection project has undoubtedly reduced the level of public trust in digital infrastructure in Indonesia. 

Johnny is currently standing trial, with state prosecutors charging him with abusing his power in the project and causing Rp 8 trillion (US$537 million) in state losses. The case is damaging the country’s digital infrastructure at a time when it aims to combat disinformation ahead of next year’s elections. 

The poor quality of digital infrastructure in Indonesia has a significant impact on the spread of disinformation in the country. Sub-par digital infrastructure, including limited access to internet and slow network speeds, restricts the ability to access trustworthy news sources and fact-checking platforms, leading to the proliferation of disinformation. 

The lack of access to diverse and credible sources hampers the ability to verify information, making it easier for disinformation to flourish. The slow internet speeds and unreliable connections in certain areas make it challenging to upload and share files, including multimedia content. This prevents fact-checkers, journalists and responsible citizens from being able to quickly counter false information with the truth. Consequently, disinformation can spread unchecked, amplifying its impact on public perception. 

As of 2020, the World Bank reported that not everybody enjoyed equal access to the internet. 50 percent of adults experienced connection barriers on a mobile device, and even fewer people had access to fixed broadband internet. Approximately 80 percent of those not connected live in rural areas of Sumatra, Java and Bali, the country’s three most densely populated islands. 

In addition, around 60 to 70 percent of Indonesians living in the country’s eastern regions are inadequately connected due to the low quality of internet services. This condition exposes the digital divide between Indonesia’s western and eastern regions. This disparity contributes to a gap in information access and consumption, leaving certain populations more vulnerable to disinformation due to limited exposure to reliable sources, as exemplified in the case of Papua.

Indonesia has been facing a pervasive issue of disinformation, particularly during election cycles and amid social and political tensions. An example of this tension could be seen in the elections in 2014 and 2019, which were founded on identity politics. Malicious actors exploited the digital infrastructure to disseminate false information, propaganda and inflammatory content. This undermined public trust in institutions, fueled social divisions and threatened the integrity of Indonesia’s democratic processes. 

The proliferation of disinformation is exacerbated by the lack of media literacy among the Indonesian population. Many people still struggle to assess the information they encounter online, making them more susceptible to manipulation and false narratives. 

Insufficient education and awareness programs on media literacy and critical thinking also contribute to the spread of disinformation. While fact-checking organizations like CheckFakta exist, their reach and capacity to counter disinformation remain limited. Collaborative efforts between related organizations, media outlets and digital platforms are essential to quickly identify and debunk false information. 

However, the scale and complexity of disinformation campaigns require more substantial support and resources to effectively combat them. Developing and implementing comprehensive regulations for combatting disinformation can be very complex and requires a robust and adaptable regulatory framework that keeps pace with rapid technological advancement. 

However, regulatory constraints such as outdated laws, complex bureaucracy, frequent rotation among ministerial staff and fragmented regulatory authorities can impede the efficient management of digital infrastructure. 

The scandalous 4G telephony project involving Johnny and six other suspects can hinder technological advancement and create an environment that undermines trust and transparency. Corruption in the Communication and Information Ministry can also lead to inefficient resource allocation. Fraudulent practices in this strategic institution can hinder the expansion and maintenance of digital infrastructure, impede the country’s quest for digital connectivity and enable disinformation ahead of the 2024 elections. 

Digital literacy is the basic ability to combat disinformation. It also promotes responsible sharing of information. In such a way, citizens must verify content before sharing it to prevent the spread of disinformation. 

Nonetheless, digital literacy goes beyond basic digital skills and encompasses the concept of digital participation and citizenship. It involves understanding one’s digital rights and responsibilities, engaging in online communities and the use of digital platforms for active participation, collaboration and expression. 

Regulating disinformation requires a delicate balance between combating harmful content and protecting freedom of expression. The government faces the challenge of designing regulations that effectively address disinformation without leading to censorship. Ensuring that regulatory measures do not infringe on free speech and diverse viewpoints is crucial. One of the challenges lies in how the government and relevant stakeholders define disinformation accurately and develop clear criteria for identifying it. 

The law, including strict penalties for non-compliance, should be enforced against those suspected of corrupt practices. It is also crucial to promote open data initiatives that make relevant information about digital infrastructure projects publicly available. This includes project details, budgets, timelines and expected outcomes. Open data initiatives will increase transparency, allow public scrutiny and help identify potential corruption risks. 

However, there is optimism as Indonesia launched The Republic of Indonesia Satellite (SATRIA-1) at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the United States on June 19. While the primary objective of the new satellite is to enhance broadband connectivity and telecommunication services, it indirectly contributes to combating disinformation by providing access to reliable information with stable internet connection at public service points in disadvantaged, frontier and remote regions across the archipelago. 

The satellite facilitates the rapid response and access to reliable information during disinformation campaigns. Government agencies, media outlets and civil society organizations can leverage the improved connectivity to promptly counter false narratives.   

Additionally, the satellite enhances connectivity that can support data-driven journalism initiatives. Journalists can conduct in-depth investigations and uncover patterns and trends related to disinformation campaigns. Data-driven journalism plays a crucial role in supporting evidence-based reporting. 

The satellite will hopefully contribute significantly to strengthening Indonesia’s digital resilience against disinformation. A robust and reliable digital infrastructure provides a solid foundation for countering disinformation by enabling faster response times, facilitating information sharing, and supporting collaborative efforts among stakeholders. 

Lastly, although SATRIA-1 will not start to provide high speed internet until January 2024, it will potentially open doors for collaboration with international partners in addressing disinformation challenges more effectively.


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