A Safe Internet for Whom, Exactly?

Relatively recently, Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information launched a program with the aim of sieving the Indonesian web of ‘inappropriate’ content. Dubbed as “Clean and Safe Internet,” (abbreviated as INSAN) the series of measures aim to cleanse the net of unpleasantries the likes of gambling, fraud, cyber-bullying, libel, and—as is the trend in Indonesia—pornography. The ministry’s stated purpose for devising such a program is “To prevent crimes from occurring in the digital realm…alongside the unwanted effects the [crimes and negativities] could bring to the real world.”

While a program designed to protect innocents from abuses originating from the internet is all well and good, there is a particularly glaring issue with how INSAN is implemented. The problem being that any site suspected of spreading content deemed as unseemly is liable to be banished from the Indonesian web—even if the website itself doesn’t actually devote itself to carrying out, or hosting any of the trespasses INSAN seeks to eradicate.

Some websites allow their users to host whatever content they so please. Meaning that the responsibility for offensive actions should mostly lie at the hands of the users themselves, not the site. Yet Indonesia’s government does not see matters that way, either through ignorance or an outright refusal to do so. Thus should a website be suspected of spreading pornography, for instance, it could end up as one of the many sites banned from the Indonesian net.

The distinction between whether the websites or users should be held accountable is rather significant. As basically users are inviting the government to ban websites, whatever the actual purpose of the site might be. In other words, sending an invitation for broad censorship targeted at websites that have purposes that are in no way disobeying the laws set by the Ministry of Communication and Information.

Let us take a gander at one highly popular website on the internet, Reddit.com. The 24th most visited site according to the internet-analytics company, Alexa. Reddit is quintessentially a news-aggregator, whose content is conjured up almost entirely by its user-base. Hence the plethora of topics available are predictably quite diverse.

On Reddit, one could find himself lost in a myriad of content. It has sections dedicated to subjects covering politics, global news, religion, pictures, jokes, and countless more. On the majority of these divisions, users can post their opinions, ideas, and whatever else as long as it is related to the topic(s) at hand, eliciting vast amounts of interactions and discussions.

I frequently visit Reddit’s politics and news segments, mainly to gather information but to also observe—and sometimes join in—the conversations taking place. And I must say that the experience is rather fascinating, as Reddit serves essentially as a forum accessible to anyone with an internet connection, who wish to discuss any issue of import to them or simply watch. It is an invaluable tool, for me personally, as a monitor on current events and on the shifting moods of the global population.

Despite Reddit’s usefulness as a source of information and a global forum, it seems that the Indonesian government has a different perception of it. Since it holds a place on Indonesia’s catalog of blacklisted websites. The reasoning behind this ban, I suspect, is because of how a minority of Reddit’s users and divisions post and host pornographic content; a big no-no for the Ministry of Communication and Information, and a great excuse for evicting Reddit from the Indonesian web.

What the Indonesian government fundamentally does is proclaiming to the denizens of the internet—both hosts of websites and ordinary users—that it has umbrella terms it is not shy of using. Ones that allow it to outlaw websites without legitimate reasons. The excuses of pornography and all the rest essentially have the effect of permitting the governing body to erect blockades against whatever site it so desires, so long as it either purposefully or accidentally violates INSAN’s rules and regulations.

INSAN has granted the Indonesian government the capacity to control the kind of information its populace are permitted to access. Quite the danger to anyone who wishes to exercise the right to free speech. As for now, although it seems that the government is content with concentrating its efforts on sites containing pornographic material, that contentedness could soon fade. We must remember another misdeed targeted by INSAN: libel. If we check the records concerning Indonesia’s defamation cases, they reflect an unpleasant image.

Cracking jokes about a celebrity, mocking a CEO, criticizing government officials, are all fertile grounds for libel charges. Regardless of whether the verbal attacks are accurate or false, as showcased by the many Indonesian reporters, bloggers, activists that have been jailed for allegedly spouting slander—a topic that will be covered on another article.

Now let us consider the scenario of websites jeopardizing the supposedly spotless reputations of powerful peoples. These sites would likely fall to the same fate as any other Indonesian critic accused of libel. They would be muted, but not by means of imprisonment. Instead the muting would be done via the regulations supplied by INSAN, that allow for the government to shut down access to these presumably criminal websites.

INSAN is a program built not for the protection of Indonesians. In its current form it is nothing more than a censorship tool disguised under the mask of moral imperatives. INSAN’s goal is not to ensure the safety of internet users, rather to manipulate them by keeping in check what the Indonesian people can and cannot see; a tool for the government to enlarge the amount of power they already hold over public opinions. INSAN must be put to a stop, before its venture turns from just impeding the spread of pornography, but also to that of other realms: beneficial information, meaningful public discourse, criticism of government policies and officials, so on and so forth. It is of utmost urgency, for those who see themselves as champions of free speech to demolish the very concept of INSAN.


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