Indonesia’s top clerical body issues fatwa against fake news and ‘gossiping’ online

Stories about a flood of hoaxes, affecting the Jakarta governor’s race earlier this year and causing religious and ethnic tension, led to reports that the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country’s highest clerical body, was planning to issue a fatwa against fake news.

Well just yesterday, MUI issued a fatwa stating a number of actions that are now forbidden for Muslims to engage in on social media. The fatwa does ban the creation and spread of fake news, but it goes even further by forbidding Muslims from engaging in any form of ghibah (gossiping) online.

Gossiping, in this sense, could be defined as sharing any information about an individual with others that that individual doesn’t want to be shared, even if the information is true.

MUI Chairman Ma’aruf Amin said gossiping on social media is just as bad as gossiping in the real world, which is also strongly forbidden for Muslims to engage in.

In the MUI fatwa, it says that all Muslims who bermuamalah (socialize) through social media are prohibited from gossip, slander and spreading hatred in the public sphere through networks like Twitter, Facebook, and others.

It also specifically forbids the production and distribution of any content that could be considered a hoax, bullying or hate speech, as well as forbidding Muslims to search for such information.

Although fatwas are not legally binding in Indonesia, many of the things forbidden by this newest edict would already be considered illegal under Indonesia’s draconian Law on Information and Electronic Transactions (UU ITE), which potentially criminalizes any electronic communication that could be interpreted as slanderous or defamatory to an individual or group.

Speaking with the MUI chairman during the announcement of the fatwa, Minister of Communication and Information Technology Rudiantara said that social media had led to many negative consequences to society, and said that he hoped that fatwa, as well as increased governmental cooperation from social media companies to follow ministerial orders to quickly block “harmful” information, would help improve the situation.

Rudiantara warned of dire consequences if it didn’t.

“Last week I had a meeting with the House of Representatives, and we said that if there are many negative situations (on social media), damaging relationships with one and another, we would not only close accounts but the Ministry would close down access to social media networks such as Facebook,” he said as quoted by Detik.

We’re pretty sure the chances of Facebook being blocked from Indonesia are the same as the chances of the fatwa stopping people from gossiping online.

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