Last week, the Indonesian government severely limited the use of social media across multiple platforms in their bid to contain the spread of dangerous hoaxes during the post-election protests. After they lifted the restrictions on Saturday, social media use is back to normal this week, but were the limitations justifiable in the first place?
Yes, according to the country’s Information and Communications (Kominfo) Minister Rudiantara. He indicated that the government had no concerns or remorse about restricting social media, despite criticism that they may have violated freedom of speech and human rights.
“[The restriction] was not a human rights violation. We did it in accordance with the law and to protect the people. After all, people were still able to send texts and make voice calls and video calls,” Rudiantara told Detik today.
The law Rudiantara was referring to is Article 40 of the controversial Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE), which give the government the power to restrict or even block the spread of digital information for the good of the public.
Aside from the government’s long battle against internet pornography and negative content such as sites promoting extremism, last week’s social media restriction was perhaps the most controversial evocation of that article.
Despite all the criticism, Rudiantara rejected concerns that last week’s social media restriction could set a dangerous precedent for the government to impinge on freedom of speech further and set Indonesia on the course towards the kind of excessive censorship seen in countries like North Korea.
“In other countries, if they shut [social media], then it’s shut. With us it’s different and there are laws to back [the government’s restiction],” he said.
The government’s social media restriction — the first of its kind in Indonesia — proved to be a divisive topic, with many backing the government for putting national security above all else during the election protests while others, including the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), immediately called for the lifting of the restrictions as to not rob the public of their right to information.
Ethical issues aside, some might argue that the restriction was not effective in its goal, considering the fact that many hoaxes still managed to go viral despite it. That might be explained by the surge in searches for VPN apps in Indonesia last week.