Like many countries, Indonesia’s online space is polluted with fake news, misinformation and disinformation. As the country’s digital economy continues to grow, the government is focused on cleaning it up.
Indonesia has the highest web-based economic productivity in Southeast Asia, with a digital economy worth an estimated US$70 billion in 2021 which will reach approximately US$330 billion by 2030.
To tackle the challenge of disinformation and boost the country’s digital competitiveness, the Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Information set up a national digital literacy program called Siber Kreasi in 2018.
In its early days, the literacy program reaches 125,000 people in 350 locations. Later, Siber Kreasi was split into Digital Literacy and Digital Talent Scholarship programs. In 2021, the digital literacy program reaches approximately 12 million people through 20,000 online literacy courses.
The government’s literacy program is the largest in the country, larger than the programs of schools, universities, community service organizations or digital companies. Indonesian Minister of Information and Communication, Johnny Plate, expects program to reach 50 million people by the end of President Joko Widodo’s second term at the end of 2024.
The focus areas of the program are digital skills, culture, safety and ethics, digital literacy and ethics dealing with misinformation. Webinars related to digital ethics emphasize how to be a good citizen on the Internet.
However, the content of the learning materials, especially in the priority areas of digital ethics and digital literacy, seems to emphasize obedience to the state rather than critical thinking and education. to the media.
Digital ethics topics emphasize a vision of the world that agrees with the government “becoming a Pancasila society on the Internet” (living based on the philosophy of the Indonesian state), “digital literacy from a national perspective”, “how to go viral without losing your morals”, and “women understand ethics”.
The literacy program webinars also remind people of the Electronic Information and Transactions Act, known as UU ITE. This law is seen as the government’s weapon against the opposition and is used to stifle criticism – it was invoked during the arrest of activists in Papua. SemuaBisaKena – a website dedicated to the documentation of 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 dissenters.
Meanwhile, the webinar format is a one-way conference that limits the interaction between speakers and the audience. With four to six speakers each, the format does not encourage critical thinking and seems ineffective in helping the audience understand knowledge translation.
The economic advantage of social media and digital platforms is also exaggerated. In digital literacy, topics include “becoming an influencer,” “making money from social media,” or “building your brand on social media.”
These questions present social media as a fast track to wealth. This focus comes at the expense of an education that could teach users to think critically about issues such as digital advertising or the content served to them by social media algorithms.
The literacy program has led Indonesians to believe that the government, unlike individuals, will put an end to misinformation. A 2021 national survey conducted by the Ministry of Information and Communication and Kata Data Insight shows that 63% of 10,000 respondents believed the ministry was the main actor responsible for stopping the distribution of pranks – a increase from 54.8* of 1,670 respondents in 2020.
The program can reach millions of people in a year, but the number of people who want to take action to prevent hoaxes is dwindling. Those who would berate others who spread hoaxes fell from 26.9% in 2020 to 17.9% in 2021, while those who will ignore or delete fake news fell from 7.4% in 2020 to 8.5% the next year.
The literacy program, while reaching millions, may not be as effective as the government hopes, especially in preventing the spread of misinformation.
An old African proverb says that it takes a whole village to raise a child. Although the Indonesian government has a vital role in stopping misinformation, the entire community must actively participate to quash it completely.
The literacy program is meant to be an empowerment initiative to stimulate critical thinking skills, but instead it risks strengthening the power of the state over its people.