Viral hoax saying Catholic woman wanted to convert to Islam before she was killed in post-election riots debunked

Example of a viral tweet about Margaretha Nainggolan. Screenshot from Twitter
Example of a viral tweet about Margaretha Nainggolan. Screenshot from Twitter

In times of chaos and instability, like what Indonesia is experiencing following the post-election protests that descended into violent riots on Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s wise to be skeptical of everything you see online. Even after the government throttled social media use to contain the spread of misinformation during this tumultuous time, some insidious hoaxes have still managed to gain traction.

One hoax that’s getting a lot of airplay today is a tweet containing a photo of a Catholic woman, supposedly named Margaretha Nainggolan, a “lowyer [sic] who went through 9-year [sic] of education,” and a couple of screenshots of a chat she allegedly had with a friend.

In the chat, Margaretha asked her friend, named Nat, to join the the protesters on May 22 in front of the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) office in Central Jakarta because she was sick of seeing her Muslim friends being oppressed. She asked Nat to bring her Muslim clothing and said that she wanted Nat to recite the shahada (declaration of belief in the oneness of Allah and the acceptance of Muhammad as His prophet — the first rite of passage into Islam) for her so that if she died, she’d died a convert to Islam.

(Editor’s note: That’s not how the shahada works. One must recite it themselves in order to become a convert.)

Based on how many netizens reacted to the viral tweet, it appears many believed Marghareta did end up being killed during the riots. One man claimed to have seen her standing on the frontline even though she had a four-month-old baby.

Netizens who were sympathetic to the protesters’ cause then took the viral tweet as proof of police brutality during the protests, despite the glaring gaps in information. Some said Marghareta’s story also showed that non-Muslims are beginning to come around to their cause, which is that defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto would have been the only one who could defend Muslims’ rights in the country and that the result of last April’s election —  which was soundly won by President Joko Widodo based on the official results from the General Election Commission (KPU) — must be rejected due to vote fraud.

However, it didn’t take long for somebody to call out the viral tweet for being fake when a woman claimed on Facebook that the photo of Marghareta was actually that of her friend, a Chinese-Indonesian woman named Ira. That claim was then shot down by this Twitter user, who said that the photo of “Ira” was actually stolen from her blog.

Some netizens also pointed out that the only living person named Margaretha Nainggolan that appears on Google is a member of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI).

While it may seem difficult to find any truth in this sea of misinformation on social media, the fact of the matter is that no person matching the description of “Margaretha” in the viral tweet was among the eight people the Jakarta Health Agency confirmed to have been killed in the riots. In fact, there was not a single woman on their list.

Despite the criticism the government is facing for infringing freedom of speech by limiting social media use at this time, hoaxes like this only serve to justify their move as hoaxes like these could sow further unrest and lead to more unnecessary violence.

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