In recent weeks, Indonesian authorities arrested at least 14 people suspected in an operation to incite religious and ethnic division and discredit the government.
A group called the Muslim Cyber Army (MCA) used fake accounts and bots to spread hoaxes and hardline Islamist views on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, according to The Guardian. Muslim-majority Indonesia ranks among the five biggest users of those social media services.
The newspaper’s investigation found links between MCA and military and opposition parties. It also discovered 103 incidents of “bounty hunting” attacks against individuals the network accused of criticizing Islam. The Washington Post reported the violence included kidnapping and torture.
Shafiq Pontoh of the data consultancy firm Provetic told The Guardian that MCA turned Twitter into a “huge, bloody battlefield,” and its first victim was former Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a close ally of Indonesia’s president.
In 2017, a court sentenced Ahok, a Chinese Christian, to two years in prison for blasphemy. Islamists accused him of using selectively edited remarks about the Quran. Some protesters called for Ahok’s death.
“It was all because of fake news, bots, black campaigns, prejudice and racism,” Pontoh said.
Messages spreading hate and fear ranged from claims of rising attacks against Muslim scholars to predictions the banned Communist Party would return, the Jakarta Globe news site reported. Some suspects were charged with inciting hate speech under Indonesian law.
“This group has a political motive. By spreading hoaxes, they hoped to discredit the legitimate government,” National Police Inspector General Gatot Eddy Pramono said. —Julia A. Seymour