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Indonesia’s government has funded a thorough media literacy program. But rather than stopping misinformation, it may serve to undermine independent thought.

Indonesia’s government has funded a thorough media literacy program. But rather than stopping misinformation, it may serve to undermine independent thought.

By Ika Idris, Monash University

Like many countries, Indonesia’s online space is polluted by fake news, misinformation, and disinformation. As the country’s digital economy continues to grow, the government is focusing on cleaning it up. 

Indonesia has the largest web-based economic productivity in Southeast Asia, with a digital economy valued at an estimated US$70 billion in 2021 that will reach approximately US$330 billion by 2030.

To face up to the challenge of misinformation and boost the country’s digital competitiveness, Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information established a national digital literacy program called Siber Kreasi in 2018. When it was first running, the literacy program reached 125,000 people in 350 locations. Later, Siber Kreasi was divided into digital literacy and digital talent scholarship programs. In 2021, the digital literacy program reached around 12 million people through 20,000 online literacy classes.

The government literacy program is the largest in the country, bigger than programs in schools, universities, Community Service Organisations, or digital companies. Indonesia’s Minister of Information and Communication Johnny Plate expects the program to reach 50 million people by the end of President Joko Widodo’s second term at the end of 2024.

The program’s focus areas are digital skills, culture, safety, and ethics, with digital culture and ethics addressing misinformation. Webinars related to digital ethics stress how to be a good citizen on the internet.

However, the content of learning materials, especially in the focus areas of digital ethics and digital culture, seem to emphasise obedience to the state over critical thinking and media literacy. The digital ethics topics emphasise a world-view that accords with the government’s: “becoming a Pancasila society on the internet” (living based on the Indonesian state philosophy), “digital literacy within a national perspective”, “how to go viral without losing your morals”, and “women understand ethics”.

Webinars for the literacy program also remind people of the Information and Electronic Transactions Law, known as UU ITE. This law is seen as the government’s weapon against opposition and is used to stifle criticism — it was invoked during the arrest of activists in Papua. SemuaBisaKena — a  website dedicated to documenting cases on UU ITE — records 768 cases brought between 2016 and 2020.

These aspects of the program give the impression of state-sanctioned intimidation of critics and dissidents.

Meanwhile, the webinar format is a one-way lecture that limits interaction between speakers and audiences. With four to six speakers each, the format does not encourage critical thinking and seems ineffective at helping audiences understand the application of the knowledge. 

The economic advantage of social media and digital platforms is also exaggerated. In digital culture, topics include “becoming an influencer”, “earn money through social media”, or “build your brand on social media”. These matters frame social media as a fast-track to wealth.  This focus comes at the expense of an education that could teach users how to critically think about issues, such as digital advertising or the content served to them by social media algorithms.

The literacy program has led Indonesians to believe the government will stop misinformation, as opposed to individuals. A 2021 national survey conducted by the Ministry of Information and Communication and Kata Data Insight shows 63 percent of 10,000 people surveyed believed the ministry was the number one actor responsible for stopping the distribution of hoaxes — an increase from 54.8 of the 1,670 respondents in 2020. 

“Among these institutions or actors, who do you think should act to stop the distribution of hoaxes?”

The program can reach millions of people in a year, but the number of people who want to take action to prevent hoaxes is declining. Those who would reprimand others who spread hoaxes declined from 26.9 percent in 2020 to 17.9 in 2021, while those who will ignore or delete fake news increased from 7.4 percent in 2020 to 8.5 the year after.

“What would you do to prevent the distribution of hoaxes/fake news?”

The literacy program, though reaching millions, may not be as effective as the government hopes, especially at preventing the spread of misinformation. 

An old African proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. Although the Indonesian government has an essential role in stopping misinformation, the entire community must actively participate to completely nullify it. The literacy program is supposed to be an empowering program to stimulate critical thinking skills, but instead it risks strengthening the state’s power over its people. 

Dr Ika Idris is an associate professor at Public Policy & Management, Monash University Indonesia. Her works focus on government communication, misinformation, and the internet’s impacts on society. Dr Idris declared no conflicts of interest in relation to this article.

This article was first published on February 14, 2022.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

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