Facebook, Twitter Comply With Indonesia’s 'Repressive' New Internet Rules

Google, however, hasn't yet shown up on the list of companies that have agreed to the new rules.

Tech News
3 min read

Meta Platform's Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp have submitted new business registrations in Indonesia, establishing their compliance with a new set of internet rules that will allow the government to control and police online content and tax the sale of digital goods.

Twitter, Spotify, Netflix, and TikTok are some of the other platforms that have registered. Google however, according to Reuters, hasn't yet shown up on the list of companies that have agreed to the new rules.

Indonesia is one of the biggest social media markets in the world and is projected to become the fourth largest in the world in the next five years, according to Statista.


What Will the New Rules Do?

Indonesia's IT regulations are formally known as Ministerial Regulation 5 of MR5. The law effectively allows the government to demand the removal of content that they deem undesirable from online platforms.

Under the rules, the government can enforce the removal of content that is deemed unlawful or "disturbs public order" within 4 hours in urgent cases or 24 hours in non-urgent cases.

MR5 was introduced back in November 2020, and the new rules extend the scope of this regulation by giving the government more power over the online space.

Social media platforms that fail to remove content that the government deems unlawful – the ministry has cited examples of child abuse and content promoting terrorism – will be blocked entirely.

Crucially, the new rules require social media companies to hand over user data if demanded by the government, similar to the VPN rules that India recently rolled out.

The rules also allow the government to impose a value-added tax on the sale of digital goods such as content and virtual items.

Which companies are affected?

The laws apply equally to domestic and foreign platforms. According to ministry data obtained by Reuters, over 5,900 domestic and at least 108 foreign companies have registered under the new regulations.

The IT ministry had given companies the deadline of 20 July to register and comply with the rules, failing which they would be penalised and blocked.

However, it is uncertain whether the Indonesian government will follow through with this threat immediately, given the widespread use of internet platforms and social media in the country.

“There will be warnings, followed by fines and lastly, shutdown of services for those who fail to register,” stated Semuel Abrijani Pangerapan, director general of informatics applications at the ministry in a recent briefing.


The Implications

Activists are criticising MR5 as an attack against free speech online. Others are pointing out a trend of strict internet-policing laws being implemented around the world.

"Our analysis shows that this will be the most repressive regulation of its kind in the region," Nenden Arum, from digital rights group the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), told Reuters.

Michael Caster of the free speech advocacy group ARTICLE 19 told The Diplomat that the laws would create a highly repressive regime, adding that the would worsen the free speech conditions in a country where internet freedom has been "steadily decreasing" over the last five years.

Many Asian countries have been imposing increasingly strict laws to police content online. India's own IT regulations have been harshly criticised for being too wide in scope and being a hindrance to free speech.

Section 69A of the IT Act 2000, for instance, allows the government to restrict access to information for the sake of India's sovereignty and integrity, defence, security, friendly relations with other nations, or public order.

Twitter recently sued the government over the use of this provision to get tweets and accounts of people, including journalists, activists, and members of opposition, blocked.

India's new IT rules 2021 allow the government to order certain intermediaries (big platforms) to identify the "originator" of the information, leading to potential privacy violations.

India's ministry of electronics and IT is currently working on a new framework to govern the country's digital sector.

This includes new legislation to replace the antiquated IT Act and an overhaul of the IT rules, though it is uncertain whether this will have a positive impact on free speech and privacy online or if it will fall in line with the trends observed around Asia.

(With inputs from The Diplomat and Reuters)

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