[Digital Week 2020] At The Brink of Digital Authoritarianism

This July 2020, SAFEnet just released a yearly report on digital rights situation in Indonesia. The 2020 report says the situation of digital rights protection in Indonesia is in a stage one of digital authoritarianism. Technological oppression, like using bandwith throttling or blanket internet shutdown in certain area, worsen the situation which already undermine freedom of expression and freedom to hold a peaceful protest.

This yearly report based on our monitoring on three digital rights:

1. The rights to access information: Includes freedom to access the Internet, such as the availability of infrastructure, ownership and control of ISP, digital divide, equality of access between genders, online censorship in form of filtering and web blocking, and also internet shutdown.

2. The rights to express freely: Includes diversity of content, freedom to express opinions, and use of the Internet in mobilizing civil society.

3. The rights to feel safe while online:Includes free from mass-surveillance and unlawful interception, protection on privacy, and free from cyber attacks.

The SAFEnet 2020 report say Indonesia has big challenges to uphold digital rights.

Rights to access:
• Digital Divide
• The Underprivileged People
• Online Censorship
• Internet Shutdown

Rights to express freely:
• Problematic Internet Regulations
• Repression to legal expression
• Polarized Communication
• Undemocratic Circumstances

Rights on safety:
• Mass-Surveillance
• Unlawful Interception
• Data Breach (privacy issues)
• The absent of privacy regulations

For more than two decades here in Indonesia, we use to see a strong correlation between internet and democracy. Historically, the use of internet since 1994 in Indonesia help to overthrow corrupt New Order regime under Soeharto. Please read:
• David L. Marcus, Revolusi Indonesia Dikendalikan oleh Internet, in The Boston Globe, 23 Mei 1998
• Review: The Internet in Indonesia’s New Democracy, in Contemporary Southeast Asia, August 2006

Digital technology through User-Generated Content platforms and others form of technology creates Digital Democracy — an extended space in cyber world to express free speech. In 2014, we recorded 64 apps and websites that made to contribute to public participation in national elections. During those time, I see an excellent example how internet have a role of democratization.

But in recent years, I watch how the internet turn upside down everything that we are proud of. Digital technology also creates problems related to fake accounts, disinformation, the spread of hate speech, and network of extremism. This situation sparks a question that need to be answered: Is democracy killed by digital?

During our works, I witness the rising of Bad Actors. Such as online agitators who use hoaxes/disinformation and digital attacks to defeat their opponents. And very often, I found out how the bad actors mobilize trolls and bot accounts to do a systematic platform manipulation or coordinated inauthentic behavior to mainstream their opinions, and “attacking their enemy” using technology.

In cases like MCA in 2017, I saw the extensive use of fake news and mobilization of troll and bot accounts (as their cyber army) to do online persecution, that begins with doxing — spreading personal information to social media as a way to intimidate targets and later follow by violence.

And in 2019, key opinion leaders involve and lead “cyber amok” to attacks media outlet like Tempo, detik, Kompas, by giving one score at apps store and also attack their journalists with doxing, online harassment using user-generated content platform.

Of course, I understand that we need to protect digital rights and democracy against those bad actors. But to rely on Indonesia internet regulation which we had since 2008, it seems don’t have any help.

Even this draconian internet law lead us to undemocratic situation. Instead of sending bad actors to jail, the law has sent many journalists, activists, and academicians behind bars for expressing their legal opinions through user-generated content platform.

Threats for digital rights are coming from article 26, 27, 28, 29 and article 40 Indonesia Electronics and Information Law.

Furthermore in 2020, I read draft ICT ministerial regulation has circulated to further regulate content moderation. Article 1 point 5, 16 and 20 inside that draft, portray the intention of State to overly control the internet, by not using the right due process of law, and try to use vague definitions over pornography, content that disturbs the public, and the State order UGC platform to do their own content moderation (to comply with the regulation) or they will lost their access.

On the other side of the table, I see the incapacity of UGC platform to do content moderation. Language barriers, different norms/law, and poor understanding of the context of events, making the UGC platform content moderation unreliable.

Let me remind you that, draconian moderation would endanger the open nature of the Internet and further marginalize under-represented voices. Therefore UGC platform should respect human rights.

One other thing, using AI/machine learning, especially during COVID-19, is a really bad decision. Like what just happened last month, where YouTube cut the live webinar ‘Exploring non-homophobic religions’ held by SEJUK stating the content breached community guidelines and also another live webinar about ‘Environment and Omnibus Law’ held by JATAM for the same reason. After communicating this cases to Google Indonesia, we just found out that the AI mistakenly cut out the livestreaming.

In the contrary, websites or UGC platform with no moderation at all would be plagued with off-topic content, trolling, and abuse of digital rights. Many cases of doxing remains untouched. Community guidelines alone won’t work.

Therefore, content moderation should involve/collaboration with civil society organizations to monitor, to evaluate, and needs transparency both from the State and the UGC company.

The regulating online content, please read and follow Guidelines from UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

At Human Rights Council 38 session, in June-July 2018, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression David Kaye addresses the regulation of user-generated online content. He recommends that States ensure an enabling environment for online freedom of expression and that companies apply human rights standards at all stages of their operations. Human rights law gives companies the tools to articulate their positions in ways that respect democratic norms and counter authoritarian demands.At a minimum, companies and States should pursue radically improved transparency, from rule-making to enforcement of the rules, to ensure user autonomy as individuals increasingly exercise fundamental rights online.

You can download the guideline here: https://freedex.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/2015/files/2018/05/G1809672.pdf or you can use the adaptation to bahasa Indonesia here: https://id.safenet.or.id/2018/06/perlunya-pendekatan-hak-asasi-manusia-untuk-peraturan-platform-konten/

Damar Juniarto, executive director at SAFEnet. Presented during User-Generated Content and Platform Governance in Digital Society session at Digital Week 2020 held by the Center of Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS).