Indonesia Blocks Over 70,000 ‘Negative’ Websites Through New ‘Crawling System’

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Indonesia has blocked more than 70,000 websites displaying “negative” content such as pornography or extremist ideology in the first month of using a new system to help purge the internet of harmful material, the communications minister told Reuters. The world’s most populous Muslim-majority country has stepped up efforts to control online content after a rise in hoax stories and hate speech, and amid controversial anti-pornography laws pushed by Islamic parties.

The so-called “crawling system” developed by a unit of state-run Telekomunikasi Indonesia Tbk (Telkom) was launched in January, using 44 servers to search internet content and issue alerts when inappropriate material is found.

“We just put some sort of keywords there, most of them are pornographic,” said Minister of Communication and Information Rudiantara, who uses one name. “Because after 2017 we have blocked almost 800,000 sites and more than 90 percent (of these were) pornographic,” said the minister.

According to ministry data, the system, installed at a cost of around $15 million, helped block 72,407 pornography sites in January. The ministry also acts to get content removed from social media platforms if there are complaints from the public.

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Indonesia threatened last year to block Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp Messenger (which is widely used in the country) unless obscene Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) images provided by third parties were removed. Authorities also blocked access to some channels on encrypted messaging service Telegram last year, saying it had several forums that were “full of radical and terrorist propaganda”.

Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc, removed 73 LGBT-related apps from its Play Store last month, including the world’s largest gay dating app, Blued, on a request by Indonesia, a communications ministry official said. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community has faced a crackdown in Indonesia and the official said the contents of the apps contradicted cultural norms and contained pornographic content. Google declined to comment.

Rudiantara said the relationship with social media companies and tech giants was improving and put some disagreements down to differences over what, for example, constitutes pornography.

“To us probably it is pornographic because we refer to the laws of pornography in Indonesia. But for other parts of the world, they say it is not pornography, it is art,” he said. “But now it’s getting better, particularly when we consider content associated with radicalism, terrorism… On that content, I think they respond very fast,” he said.

The minister also said that nine tech companies, including Google and Facebook, had recently pledged to help authorities fight fake news and hate speech during upcoming elections in the world’s third-biggest democracy.

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