Members of ‘Muslim Cyber Army’ WhatsApp group arrested for spreading fake news about rise of communists, scholar kidnappings

A recent fake news item shared on Facebook. It says “15 million members of the PKI armed to slaughter ulema (Muslim scholars)”
A recent fake news item shared on Facebook. It says “15 million members of the PKI armed to slaughter ulema (Muslim scholars)”

No, Indonesian communists are not coming back from the dead and neither are ulemas (Islamic scholars) being targeted for persecution — you can’t really trust most “news” being shared on WhatsApp anyway, and now the authorities have apprehended some of the people responsible for sharing harmful lies on the popular messaging service.

The National Police’s Cyber Crimes Directorate and the National Intelligence Agency yesterday arrested four people belonging to the WhatsApp group The Family MCA (aka the Muslim Cyber Army), who the authorities said spread fake news to incite hatred among groups in Indonesia.

“Based on our investigation, this group often created provocative issues and spread them on social media,” National Police Cyber Crimes Director Fadil Imran told Kompas today.

Fadil said that the fake news stories the group shared include the supposed rise of the Indonesian Communist Party, or PKI (which has been banned since 1966, yet anti-communist rhetoric is still widely used as a political tool both to legitimize the establishment and to attack it), the kidnapping of ulemas across the country, and defamatory content aimed at the president and his government.

But their cyber attacks were allegedly not limited to spreading misinformation.

“They deliberately spread viruses to people and their enemies that caused damage to the device of the receiver,” Fadil said.

The four suspects, who were arrested in four different cities including Jakarta, were charged with inciting religious hatred under the Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE), a crime punishable by up to four years in prison.

While Indonesia is often criticized for its draconian online censorship laws, the country also has a major problem with fake news and hoaxes being spread online (like much of the world). Lately, the government have stepped up their attempts to crack down on fake news by going after not only the people who create the hoaxes but even those who simply share them.

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