Dirty GIFs and Seditious Memes are Under Fire in Indonesia

Dirty GIFs and Seditious Memes are Under Fire in Indonesia
Photo Credit:Reuters/達志影像

What you need to know

Authorities threatened to block WhatsApp if the messenger app did not block 'obscene' content.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Communications and Information is seeking to increase controls on “obscene” content online.

The country already takes pains to censor online pornography, dating services, websites with information related to sex and sexuality and online content that is deemed insulting to Islam.

Director General Semuel Pangerapan announced that officials would summon representatives from Google, Twitter and WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) to pressure these companies to screen their networks for content that they deem to be sexually obscene.

The announcement specifically addressed “lewd” animated GIFs and the prevalence of the typically playful looped animations circulating on WhatsApp. The Ministry threatened to block WhatsApp if the company failed to remove such GIFs within 48 hours. The company, which is owned by Facebook, did not see this as an empty threat — authorities blocked messaging app Telegram in July 2017 due to concerns of terrorist activity on the platform.

It is technically impossible for WhatsApp to identify “lewd” content in specific messages and then remove it — WhatsApp is encrypted, which means that the company cannot screen the content of messages sent between users. Users are free to share with each other anything they find online. But the app also offers fixed packages of ready-to-use GIFs from third-party creators. Shortly after the announcement, popular third-party creator Tenor Inc. had disabled access to these packages. In the eyes of authorities, this seems to have solved the problem, at least for now.

Alongside this effort to tamp down on obscene content online, congressional House Speaker Setya Novanto has unleashed a stream of legal threats against social media users for mocking him online.

A powerful force in Indonesia’s congress, Novanto has evaded corruption allegations on multiple occasions. This is often the subject of online commentary about the House Speaker.

The Indonesian police briefly detained Instagrammer Dyann Kemala Arrizqi for spreading memes that mocked House of Representatives Speaker Setya Novanto. He could face up to six years in jail under Indonesia’s Cyberlaw.

Police warned that nine other individuals will be charged for violating the anti-defamation provision of the Information Technology Law (ITE) for sharing the photo and associated memes on social media.

Law expert Henri Subiakto said that memes are equal to satire and shouldn’t be subject to charges of defamation or spreading a hoax.

The News Lens has been authorized to publish this article from Global Voices, a border-less, largely volunteer community of more than 1400 writers, analysts, online media experts, and translators.

TNL Editor: Morley J Weston