Police arrest 6 for spreading hoax stories about Indonesian natural disasters on social media

People walk past dead bodies (blue cover) a day after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. Rescuers scrambled to reach tsunami-hit central Indonesia and assess the damage after a strong quake brought down several buildings and sent locals fleeing their homes for higher ground. Photo: Ola Gondronk/AFP

The National Police have arrested six people across Indonesia who are suspected of sharing hoax stories on social media related to the recent natural disasters that have rocked various parts of the country.

According to National Police Spokesperson Dedi Prasetyo, the suspects shared stories that either falsely exaggerated the impact of the recent earthquakes in Central Sulawesi and Sumba Island, or included fake warnings that similar large-scale disasters were about to hit the island of Java, particularly Jakarta.

“The National Police Cyber Crimes Law Enforcement Directorate has so far identified 14 social media accounts suspected of spreading fake news or exaggerated news,” Dedi wrote in an official statement today, as picked up by Detik.

Of the six, one suspect not only shared false information about the Central Sulawesi earthquake, but he also shared fake news about the rise of the banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and posts that insulted President Joko Widodo.

The police said they had no indications that the six suspects — all of whom live in separate cities — knew each other.

The police reports didn’t make clear if the suspects were the original creators of the posts that got them in trouble. However, under Indonesia’s draconian Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE), even those who merely share problematic posts can also be criminally liable.

Under UU ITE, sharing fake news is a crime punishable by up to six years in prison.

The National Police has vowed to continue hunting hoax spreaders who they say are causing public unrest and panic related to the recent natural disasters.

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