After Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (Kemkominfo) issued dire warnings to Whatsapp yesterday, stating they would completely block access to the popular messaging app if its management did not start filtering out “pornographic” GIFs, Indonesian users have now lost the ability to search for or send the small animated image files after the government blocked access to Tenor, the third-party GIF repository used by Whatsapp.
Confirming media reports that the feature had been disabled, our attempts to access the Whatsapp’s GIF feature this morning led to a screen asking us to “Check your phone’s internet connection and try again”.
Kemkominfo’s director general of applications and informatics, Samuel Abrijani Pangerapan, told Kompas last night that the ministry had decided to block all six DNS sites owned by GIF search site Tenor (tenor.com, api.tenor.com, blog.tenor.com, qa.tenor.com, media.tenor.com and media1tenor.com) effectively disabling Whatsapp GIF feature.
“We’ve already told the (mobile ISPs) to do the blocking,” Samuel said, adding that the they were acting on requests from the members of the public who asked that the feature be removed because WhatsApp can be used by small children.
It is not yet clear if the unilateral blocking of Tenor by the Indonesian government means Kemkominfo’s threat to block Whatsapp if the app’s administrators did not cooperate by filtering out “pornographic” GIFs is now moot.
(We keep writing “pornographic” because in all of the examples given by the ministry and from our own searches, we could not find any examples of these so-called pornographic GIFs that actually featured actually explicit pornography or even nudity. But some of them are highly suggestive and due to the extremely broad and ambiguous definition of what legally constitutes pornography in Indonesia, they could be considered to run afoul of the law.)
Whatsapp has not yet issued a statement regarding Tenor being blocked but had previously stated that they could not monitor its users’ use of GIFs as all communications within the app are end-to-end encrypted.
Tenor Inc, one of the third parties, said it was attempting to release a “fix.” Giphy, another provider, did not respond to requests to comment.
A spokesperson for Tenor said in a statement that the company is working “to address the content issues raised by the Indonesian government within the next 48 hours”.
The inability of Indonesian Whatsapp users to search for and send GIFs may not be the greatest blow to free speech ever (as we learned from a master hacker, you can simply get around it by searching for a GIF on Google, downloading it to your phone and then uploading it on Whatsapp).
But nonetheless, it is another win for the forces of over-the-top censorship in Indonesia and of course for parents who are too lazy or irresponsible to monitor their own children’s use of the Internet.