Southeast Asia’s wave of internet regulation comes to Indonesia

Southeast Asia’s wave of internet regulation comes to Indonesia

Indonesia’s new internet regulation requires platforms to remove ‘prohibited’ content—defined as anything violating Indonesian law, disturbing public order, or inciting unrest—within twenty-four hours. The government insists the law is needed to combat disinformation and avoid the destabilizing effects of ‘fake news’. But critics worry it may be a ploy to silence online dissent. The law aligns Indonesia with Southeast Asia’s trend of increased internet regulation. How online platforms react will determine regional internet developments.  

Ministerial Regulation No.5 (MR5) would enable the government to order all ‘prohibited’ materials be removed within twenty-fouror in some cases as little as fourhours of posting. It also requires companies to provide sensitive information to the authorities, including personal data, which critics worry may comprise financial, health, and biometric data, as well as users’ political views and sexual orientation. 

The regulation applies to all social media, search engines, and cloud computing services operating in Indonesia. Those failing to comply risk being fined or blocked. The government says the controls are necessary to combat ‘fake news.’ Concern has grown in Indonesia in the wake of high-profile cases of online misinformation such as in 2016, when Islamist groups spread misinformation over messaging apps targeting ethnic Chinese Indonesians, intended to rally the populace against investment from China.

Indonesia is the largest democracy in Southeast Asian and the Islamic world, holding great prominence for perceptions of democracy in both cultural spheres. Yet the country is also influenced by its neighbours, and MR5 follows a regional trend of increasing government control of the internet. Singapore recently passed a law prohibiting ‘online falsehoods,’ Cambodia is planning a gateway to regulate online traffic, and Myanmar has cut internet access in response to recent protests.

Fake News in Indonesia

The ability of online media to amplify misinformation has raised concern globally. Social media platforms are powerful political tools, strengthening the ability for legitimate political campaigns to rally supporters. However, social media’s disseminating power may also help  foreign adversaries undermine democratic processes, as has been alleged of the 2016 US presidential election.

Indonesia has struggled to contain ‘fake news,’ and the country is fertile ground for misinformation’s spread. Deep and growing mistrust of the government has been heightened by pandemic missteps and a perceived lack of transparency. Over 30% of Indonesia’s 272 million people use mobile messaging apps, giving ‘fake news’ a massive potential audience. 

Amid a proliferation of destabilising misinformation, a government crackdown is perhaps inevitable. Regulations like the current MR5 proposal could prove useful for combating ‘fake news,’ but knowing where to draw the line will be difficult. Moreover,  critics are likely to resist regulations which they fear could quash dissent.

Risk outlook

Industry groups warn implementation of MR5 could impose unreasonable burdens. The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), which represents big tech firms in the region, has expressed deep concerns with the regulation. AIC warns compliance with 24-hour take-down orders is unrealistic and believes that enforcement measures against companies are too harsh. 

Moreover, the text of the regulation, say critics, is vague and gives authorities too much flexibility in interpretation. Companies are left in a position of ambiguity, which may create pressure for them to over-correct and self-censor in line with government sentiments. 

MR5 also requires companies to allow law enforcement direct access to their data systems and lacks provisions for notifying individuals when their information is demanded and gives platforms only five days to respond. Indonesia’s recent data leak, reportedly releasing personal information of up to 270 million Indonesians, has created significant data privacy concerns, and will likely cause Indonesians to demand revisions to the legislation.

The AIC has also raised concern over the security of devices used to access data systems, highlighting the lack of transparency regarding government cybersecurity standards and the risks posed by hackers. Platforms may also face scrutiny for breaches of confidentiality, even though vulnerabilities lie outside of their control. Private sector lobbying will play a significant role in the development of MR5, as they look to alter provisions regarding response timeframes, appeals channels, and data security.


The start date for implementing MR5 has already been extended by six months amid concerns over compliance difficulties; the government’s hesitation signals a possibility for amendments. President Jokowi has sought to assuage fears over data security and state overreach by expressing the government’s commitment to proper implementation of the law. Jokowi maintained that if the law is not consistent with the public’s sense of justice, he will invite the House of Representatives to amend the law, revoking catchall articles that may lead to varying interpretations.

If the regulation is implemented in its current state, it will create significant uncertainty among platform users and providers. Should this come to fruition, Indonesia will be following a trend of Southeast Asian governments tightening regulation over cyberspace, translating into business risks for private digital operators. Corporate lobbying and legislative revision to MR5 during the extension will therefore determine greater Southeast Asian internet regulatory developments.

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