“I can eat Tilapia again!”

With local elections recently completed and national elections approaching in April of 2019, political issues are a hot topic in Indonesia and rumors are flying. Disinformation and misinformation have become a serious problem. Indonesia’s population is among the top five users of Facebook and Twitter globally and, during the 2017 election period, political groups used hundreds of fake and anonymous accounts to churn up religious, ethnic, geographic and political divisions.

Since early this year, Internews has been partnering with AJI and the Google News Initiative to improve the quality of news and information reaching citizens in Indonesia and to combat misinformation and “fake news,” especially leading up to the elections.

A man holds up an index card with a smiley face drawn on it
Journalists participate in a workshop in Jakarta, Indonesia that provided training in using tools from the internet to verify information. Credit: Internews

“From (this) January to March, there has been an increase of up to 300 percent of hoax information spread in the community, compared to 2016,” said Dian Lestari, Chairperson of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) chapter in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, during a hoax-busting and digital workshop for students and the general public. This rise, gathered from information from the West Kalimantan Police Cyber Crime Unit, is predicted to continue to increase during the period before Election Day.

Reinardho Sinaga, the Secretary of AJI Pontianak and a Google-certified trainer, added, “All information or news should be verified first to determine if it is potentially a hoax or not. It is necessary to identify the content and the source.”

Debunking misinformation

Through the Google News Initiative project, journalists learn how to conduct online verification, find original content, debunk disinformation and misinformation, and protect their data. They also learn how to better communicate with their communities, delivering accurate, high-quality reporting and building trust.

For example, an image of an invitation to an event where the Governor of Jakarta was supposedly going to announce his bid for the presidency was circulating through social media. It caused a stir because the invitation appeared to come from the Islamic Student Association Alumni Corp, which has declared itself nonpolitical (in 2017, hoaxes were used to stoke religious animosity). The image was debunked as a hoax by Edmiraldo Siregar, one of the Google News Initiative trainers who works for Liputan6.com, a participant in Cekfakta, a collaborative fact-checking and verification platform launched by Internews and its partners.

Ika Ningtyas is a regional coordinator for AJI and a young journalist from East Java province who works freelance for several media outlets, including Tempo, an Indonesian news portal. She participated in the Training of Trainers hoax-busting workshop conducted in February 2018 and soon after began helping Tempo with their participation in Cekfakta.

“I become involved when Tempo needed advanced verification using online tools. These tools are very useful, because not all hoax information can be solved by conventional verification,” says Ika.

Three smiling women in headscarves sit at tables with laptops
Most of the workshops are conducted in Bahasa Indonesia and led by local journalists. Credit Google News Initiative

In Pontianak, another trainer from the Google News Initiative Training Network, Reinardho “Edho” Sinaga, trained a group of people in his town how to check and verify misinformation and disinformation. A participant asked if they could verify some information that she believed was true. She had heard that her favorite dish, the fish tilapia, was dangerous to eat because it causes cancer in humans. She had not eaten tilapia for the two years since she heard that rumor.

Using tools provided by the Google News Initiative Training Network, Edho found that the story was false.

As soon as the training was over, the participant went straight to the nearest restaurant to find tilapia. She sent a message to Edho, saying, “I can eat tilapia again!”

Although this is a comical example, the effects of disinformation are no laughing matter. Disinformation in the health and humanitarian sectors can have serious consequences. Likewise, Indonesia has a long history of lynching and mob justice, and disinformation can have deadly consequences on social cohesion, as disruptors look to tear at the heart of the country’s rich social and cultural fabric.

Local Sustainability and Collaboration

To increase its effectiveness and reach, the project aims to train local journalists in all parts of Indonesia. To that end, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) will train 750 journalists and more than 1,000 bloggers, students, and researchers through the end of 2018.

“I’ve never attended a workshop like this,” said a participant at a training in Denpasar, Bali. “For me it is a very crucial issue that should be discussing broadly, especially when we are consuming a lot of information from the Internet and social media. At least now I know what kind of information should be re-shared to my friends and minimize spreading hoaxes.”

In May, Masyarakat Anti-Fitnah Indonesia (Mafindo), the Association of Indonesia Cyber Media (AMSI), the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Internews, and Google News Initiative organized the Trusted Media Summit. At the summit, 22 respected national and local media outlets, in collaboration with Mafindo, launched CekFakta.com (or “FactCheck.com” in English), publicly committing to raise journalistic standards by not propagating misinformation.

All hoaxes and rumors circulating in the public are reported and entered into the Cekfakta database and go through a verification process, the results of which can be accessed by participating media.

“For the first time, the mainstream Indonesian cyber media collaborates,” said Wenseslaus Manggut, Chairman of the Indonesian Cyber Media Association. “We put aside competition for bigger things.” Restoring and maintaining public trust and confidence in media is a goal that we all share.

Since the launch of the first Training of Trainers in Jakarta on January 27, 2018, the Google News Initiative Training Network has grown into a vast network of 50 trainers and 1,431 trainees in just seven months. The trainers were trained in two TOT events, and the trainees have participated in 42 Google News Initiative trainings and Google News Initiative half-day workshops across Indonesia

Internews is also partnering with Google News Initiative in India to provide high-level training to 8000 journalists across English and six other Indian languages that include Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Marathi and Kannada to fight against misinformation and fake news.

(Banner photo: Participants of the Trusted Media Summit chant their commitment to fighting misinformation in Indonesia. Credit: Google News Initiative)