Is there such a thing as a “positive” hoax news story? Well, according to the man tasked with eradicating them in Indonesia, there just might be.
Today, President Joko Widodo officially named Djoko Setiadi chief of the newly formed Cyber Body and National Encryption Agency (BSSN), a government organization tasked with ensuring cyber security in the country. Djoko himself was previously head of the Encryption Agency (Lemsaneg) before it was dissolved into the BSSN.
In his first interview with reporters following today’s inauguration, Djoko said that the new agency will play its part in eradicating hoaxes in Indonesia, especially in the lead-up to the 2018 nationwide regional elections and next year’s presidential election.
Makes sense, particularly as legitimately fake news items like vaccines supposedly containing traces of pig DNA have strengthened the anti-vaccines movement in Indonesia in recent years, which is said to be a contributing factor to the large number of deaths in the recent diphtheria outbreak.
But here’s where it gets confusing. Djoko seems to be selective in what hoaxes he wants to eradicate.
“Surely we’ll look at the hoaxes, as there are positive and negative ones. I implore to you my friends, the sons and daughters of Indonesia, that if the hoax is productive then by all means (spread it),” Djoko said, as quoted by Kompas.
So we’re supposed to spread “positive” hoaxes? Got it.
“But don’t protest too much (online), or insult others. I think it’s best if we decrease all those expressions that are inappropriate,” he added.
A hoax’s merit is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. It might suit certain people’s agenda just fine (looking at you, Trump), and is therefore positive for them, but we’re going to go ahead and say it: blurring the line between truth and fiction is a massive net negative for the public at large.
If the BSSN serves as their own moral compass in determining the merits of a hoax story, who’s to say they won’t censor all hoaxes out there except those that paint the government in a positive light?
Unless Djoko Setiadi and BSSN commit to eradicating all hoaxes, then this new agency runs the very realistic risk of being used as a political tool, which is arguably just as bad as letting people spread hoaxes for political gain in the first place.