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TikTok joins Indonesia’s fight against election misinformation

JAKARTA (ANN/JAKARTA POST) – TikTok, boasting 125 million users in Indonesia, is joining forces with the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) and civil groups to tackle the surge of fake news ahead of the 2024 elections. 

Election watchdogs have previously voiced concerns over the proliferation of election misinformation on social media, fearing that it may hurt the integrity of the 2024 polls, undermine trust in the electoral process and deepen polarisation among the public.

Anbar Jayadi, outreach and partnerships manager on TikTok Indonesia’s Trust & Safety team, said the platform was working with independent fact-checkers at the Jakarta office of Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency to help flag videos containing hoaxes.

“AFP helps our some 3,000 Indonesian content moderators when they face difficulties in identifying whether a video contains misinformation or fake news, since political contents are very nuanced and have a lot of contexts,” Anbar told reporters recently.

“We want to strike a balance between preventing the spread of misinformation and providing a space where freedom of expression can thrive,” she added.

According to Anbar, TikTok has also teamed up with Bawaslu, the election watchdog Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), and the nonprofit Indonesian Anti-Slander Society (Mafindo) to build a database of political narratives used in fake news, so the platform’s content moderators can more easily identify hoaxes.

The platform is also prioritising reports on fake news from Bawaslu, Perludem and Mafindo, each of which has an internal content moderating team.

Faris Mufid, TikTok Indonesia’s public policy and government relations manager, said the platform had banned monetisation, receiving donations, and advertisement on accounts belonging to the government, politicians, and political parties.

“TikTok is not a political platform, so we want to discourage political campaign ads on our platform,” Faris said, adding that the restriction did not apply to public service advertisements.

He also noted that TikTok’s moderation technology could also recognize inauthentic, coordinated behavior from buzzer politik, or so-called political influencers, attempting to trick its algorithms into promoting and recommending false information and narratives.

In line with its apolitical stance, Faris also emphasised that TikTok did not promote any politician or political party, and that the appearance of content related to a certain candidate was due to a user’s personal preference and activities on the platform.

Growing threat

Loina Perangin-angin, who is on Mafindo’s research and development committee, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that the NGO was seeing a worrying increase in political misinformation and disinformation on social media in recent years.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not only helped spur digitalisation, but also the spread of misinformation,” she said.

“As of October this year, our team found some 250 fake news items on various social media platforms each month, with more than half related to politics. It was much higher compared to during the 2019 elections, when we detected some 100 fake news per month,” Loina said.

She believed that the number would grow exponentially next year, given the past trend that 75 percent of all political hoaxes Mafindo detected in 2019 were posted after the polls.

Loina said the alarming proliferation of online hoaxes was a result of the booming “disinformation for hire” industry, in which private marketing, communications and public relations firms were paid to spread misinformation and manipulate content on social media.

She said this industry had ample manpower and resources to create and spread sophisticated fake news through video content and generative artificial intelligence, including deepfake technology.

“That’s why in recent years, we have been seeing an exponential increase in disinformation on video-based platforms such as YouTube and TikTok,” she said.

‘Prebunking’

Unggul Sagena, from the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), said social media platforms played a crucial role in curbing the spread of fake news and ensuring the success of the 2024 elections.

“Fifty-six percent of voters in the upcoming elections are millennials and Gen Z, most of who consume news via social media. Social media will be the battleground for political figures and parties, so ensuring that these platforms are safe from fake news and disinformation is crucial for the success of the elections,” he said.

Kahfi Adlan Hafidz of Perludem said independent watchdogs and social media platforms, as well as Bawaslu, aimed to adopt a new approach called “prebunking”.

“Basically, ‘prebunking’ involves teaching individuals how to spot false claims before encountering them [online]. If the false information is a virus, ‘prebunking’ acts like a vaccine to make individuals immune to disinformation,” he said.

This is believed to be more effective than debunking, which exposes a claim as fake after it has been spread, a retroactive approach that can sometimes reach fewer users than the fake news it is refuting.

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