Amid the rescue efforts, the Indonesian authorities have to spend time fighting hoaxes

“This video is a HOAX,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the national spokesman of the Indonesian disaster-management board, said on Twitter of an apocalyptic video clip featuring a cloud of volcanic ash chasing down fleeing residents.

A deadly 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit Palu, Indonesia on September 28th. Since then, authorities in Indonesia have identified a number of social media hoaxes. These fake reports have been spreading further fear and frenzy among residents in the disaster zone.

The footage Nugroho referred to, for example, has nothing to do with Indonesia’s ongoing disaster. It is actually taken during Guatemala’s Mount Fuego eruption back in June. “Ignore and do not share on social media,” he warned.

So far the video has gotten 227K views and more than 8200 retweets.



Besides dramatic videos and graphic photos, Indonesia’s Ministry of Information and Communication discovered eight other instances of fake reports.

Palu Mayor Hidayat was surprised to find out that he was “killed” by one of the hoaxes. “In fact, Palu Mayor Hidayat did not die and is now carrying out emergency work in Palu, Central Sulawesi,” the ministry clarified.

In another outrageous instance, the police department received fake information that a local dam was near to collapse. Officers then had to waste invaluable resources on a false investigation. Meanwhile, time is running out for those stuck under rubble. Local police could have focused their energy on rescue missions.

The ministry also discredited rumors that a stronger earthquake is about to hit the region. “In fact, there is no country in the world with the science and technology capable of predicting earthquakes with certainty,” said the press release.

To counter the disruptive effects of these hoaxes, Nugroho initiated a full-on Twitter fight-back despite his Stage IV lung cancer and deteriorating physical condition.

“Illness or death is in God’s hands, but while I’m still alive I still want to do my best to serve others,” said the 48-year-old who is fighting a daily battle against his illness and still manages to put down emerging rumors with his 24/7 updates on the tsunami. All his tweets have been shared thousands of times.


Sutopo Purwo Nugroho addressed the media during a press conference in Jakarta on On October 2, 2018 (AFP/Goh Chai Hin)

Indonesia’s obsession with viral sharing exists far before this year’s tsunami. The government has been fighting wave after wave of fake social media content. But its crackdown on fake news has proven difficult.

According to research by We Are Social and Hootsuite, Indonesia has the fourth highest number of Facebook users globally, just behind India, the United States and Brazil. Up to the beginning of this year, the country hosts a total of more than 130 million social media users which account for 6 percent of all the users in the world.

On Facebook and Twitter, political groups regularly spread lies and hate speech to exploit existing social and religious conflicts.

During the 2016 election in Jakarta, online misinformation campaigns managed to distort the election outcome. Incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama suffered greatly as a result. There are serious concerns that the same problem would threaten the integrity of the 2019 national election.

Aware of the severity of the issue, the Ministry of Information and Communication has announced plans to hold weekly fake news briefings. The goal is to deter netizens from sharing false content.

“Every week we will announce hoax news,” Minister Rudiantara told CNN Indonesia. “The ministry will not just stamp a story as hoax, but we will also provide facts.”

This initiative is part of the ministry’s larger campaign to increase Indonesia’s “digital literacy.” In addition to the briefings, the ministry will also dispatch a specialized content control team. Consisted of 70 people, the team will identify fake news on all social media sites.

As new hoaxes continue to emerge amidst the tsunami disaster, the government has appealed to the public to engage more critically with the news they consume.

Featured Image via AFP/Yusuf Wahil