Indonesian government warns it will block WhatsApp if ‘pornographic gifs’ are not blocked immediately

An example of the kinds of “pornographic” GIFs you can find on WhatsApp.
An example of the kinds of “pornographic” GIFs you can find on WhatsApp.

In some countries, parents are actually expected to be responsible for monitoring their children’s use of technology. But not in Indonesia. Here, you can always rely on the government to expend large amounts of time and energy taking on the responsibility of babysitting the Internet for nation’s children and citizens of all ages.

Indonesia’s latest “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” moral panic concerns uber-popular messaging application WhatsApp, which the government apparently just realized can be used to send people all kinds of GIFs, including those that they judge to be vulgar under the country’s strict pornography laws.

In response to this realization, apparently brought about by numerous reports from the public, Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (Kemkominfo) said it would act quickly and decisively. Claiming to have already issued three official warnings to the maker’s of the messaging app since yesterday, Kemkominfo has warned that WhatsApp could be blocked in the near future if they did not receive an acceptable response from the company by Wednesday.

Kemkominfo officials acknowledged that WhatsApp does not actually host the gratuitous GIFs on its own servers and merely allows users to search through third-party GIF repositories like Giphy and Tenor, but they said that does not relieve WhatsApp of its responsibilities.

“Though they’re from a third party, WhatsApp cannot avoid its responsibilities because it’s on their platform.WhatsApp should immediately remove them, if not (the app) will be blocked,” said Semuel Abrijani Pangerapan, a director at Kemkominfo, at a press conference today as quoted by Detik.

A WhatsApp spokesperson was quoted as saying the company could not implement controls on the GIFs shared by its users since all communications on the service are encrypted end-to-end.

Kemkominfo said it had also reached out to Giphy and Tenor to stop their “pornographic” gifs from being shown to users in Indonesia, and said that Giphy had already indicated it would cooperate with the government’s request.

BTW, 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.

However, we’d note that similar content can just as easily be found through Google image search or even Youtube. But since few are brave enough to suggest blocking those sites, we’ll probably just have to deal with the moral panic over Whatsapp for now.

How likely is it that the government would actually block WhatsApp? Pretty unlikely, given its popularity as well as past cases of similar censorship threats. Last year the government said it would tell Whatsapp to get rid of the app’s LGBT+ positive emoji (which are still accessible in Indonesia to this day).

But WhatsApp may very well still have to play ball. The government briefly blocked another messaging app, Telegram, for allegedly hosting radical and terrorism-related content, but a visit from Telegram CEO Pavel Durov and promises to help block such content had the ban quickly lifted.

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