Hoax, Fake News, and Threats to Civil Freedom

ELSAM, Jakarta- In 2016 Oxford Dictionaries included “post-truth” in its lexicon to refer to a condition where objective facts do not influence to shape the public opinion as compared to personal and emotional faith. What defines post-truth actually refers to the phenomenon of the spread of fake news and hoax which in any moments determines more that the real facts about an event. Such phenomenon occurs in the world, following the expanded social media to society life, and has been considered as urgent by the countries. This year United Nations Human Rights Council together with international organisation published Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and “Fake News”, Disinformation and Propaganda, which emphasizes the importance of effective prevention to the spreading of hoax, and protects citizens’ freedom of expression and opinion.

The hoax phenomenon happened these few years in Indonesia. Obor Rakyat and Saracen were also parts of the global phenomenon. Government has taken any actions such as internet site blocking and legal process even though it ends with protests from major civilians as they considered the actions were repressive and restricted civil freedom. Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) held a media discussion on Wednesday (28/09) in Jakarta to respond to the phenomenon. The discussion called “The Hoax Phenomenon and its Threat to Civil Freedom” was attended by journalists and other media activists, namely Agus Sudibyo (Indonesia New Media Watch), Ariwibowo Sasmito (Masyarakat Anti Fitnah Indonesia), Roysepta Abimanyu (Presidential Staff Office), Wahyudi Djafar (ELSAM’s Deputy Director of Research), and Indriaswati Dyah Saptaningrum (ELSAM’s senior researcher) as a moderator.

In his presentation, Wahyudi Djafar said that globally hoax phenomenon has actually had its significant attention and influence after Brexit occured in UK last year. At the same time, US presidential election whose candidates were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump also used from the significant role of spreading hoax to influence the voters.

“In Indonesia, we can actually divide two moments of spreading hoaxes. The first was when the 2014 presidential election in which there was a facts spin. The second was in the governor’s election in DKI Jakarta when hoaxes were massively spreading,” Wahyudi Djafar explained to the journalists.

Further, Wahyudi said that the threat to civil freedom today was risen by hoax and fake news repeatedly sent so that they were believed as truths. As the effect of spreading hoax and fake news then believed as truths, the repressive or even coercive actions are not simply comitted by state (apparatus) but also by certain groups believing the fake information.

The actions were various, from civilized to uncivilized. They were the violations of freedom of opinion by bullying through social media, criminalization, stigmatization and discrimination, dispersal and banning (of discussion, film screening, arts), physical and verbal persecution to those who legally express their opinion, property destruction, and religious persecution.

Recently government deals with high scale hoax phenomenon and its fast spreading for being used as political tools by certain parties. Other than that, the literacy capaity of Indonesian people is quite new so that any information in the internet will be considered as more correct than those delivered by valid mass media. “That’s why government thinks it’s important to take action. It’s not to show the power legitimacy but the show state dignity,” Roysepta Abimanyu explained. Roy also stated that currently there is a nedd  to shape a single narration so that society will not be confused to receive and understand an event.

In the same occassion, Agus Sudibyo agreed with Roy’s statement that government currently has no single narration to explain or respond to information appearing in social media. “One thing should be corrected and government should be consistent with single narration, and solid. As we can see that in dealing with communism issue and weapons purchasing, government cannot show their solidness because of the different statements given,” Agus said.

According to Ariwibowo Sasmito, the problem to deal with in post-truth era is that the information sleected by public is fit into their desire and taking-side factors. Moreover, there are lacks of capacity in understanding the type of media which influence to the information quality disseminating in social media.

“There are two problems why hoax is easily distributed. First, the unwillingness of public to read and confirm the received information. Society cannot differentiate which media is credible, not credible, or simply an opinion media,” Ariwibowo said. Second, he added, it comes from the media itself which often becomes the party to spread fake news. He said that this way is carried out to delegitimate credible sources, government and policy makers.[ ]