Welcome to Can't Handle the Truth, VICE Indonesia's summary of the most-popular and most-talked about hoaxes and fake news stories circulating this week.
There's an interesting development in the world of Indonesian hoaxes. Fake news continues to grow here, but its impact is getting weaker by the week. Every week there are less and less stories that grab the nation's attention. The reason why is simple: excess supply.
Hoaxes are addictive. When a meticulously designed hoax, like the ones still circulating about Habib Rizieq Shihab, hit the press, people can't help by talk. But, much like one of our writers recently learned, too much of even your favorite thing can make you sick.
So what are Indonesians talking about instead? Gossip and rumors. These are, in a way, even more interesting than straight up fake news because you can't verify or dispute any of it. Take the rumors swirling around the resignation of Najwa Shihab, the host of the MetroTV talk show Mata Najwa. The network reportedly killed the popular show after an episode where Najwa Shihab interviewed the Corruption Eradication Commission's (KPK) injured investigator Novel Baswedan.
Why? Who knows. Some people say it's because of some sort of police conspiracy. But there's no way to know the truth until MetroTV releases a statement explaining their decision to cancel the show. Until then people will keep on wondering why… and gossiping.
Here's why rumors are the new hot thing in our WhatsApp groups: the hoaxes have gotten super dumb. There's no mystery anymore. Now it's pretty easy for even totally "normal" people like our cousins and uncles to tell the difference between what's real and what's fake.
So instead of brining you the best hoaxes of the week, I'm going to do something a bit different. This week, I'm going to detail the fake stories that are so dumb that the only mystery here is who the hell would believe this shit in the first place.
Drug traffickers are randomly mailing strangers packages full of narcotics
This is one oddly persistent hoax. It started earlier this month, when a broadcast message started going around WhatsApp (classic) warning everyone not to accept mysterious air mail packages from unknown senders. The message began with an epic line urging every to "please pass this message on to the RT and RW (community chiefs and neighborhood unit heads)," so you knew it had to be urgent.
The message said that these packages contained massive amounts of illegal drugs. The address was written in such a way that it would appear to be a mistaken delivery, and then a drug dealer disguised as a postal worker would arrive and take it back. That way they minimize the risk by putting all the danger on your unsuspecting head.
To drive the whole thing home, the message contained some information about the police investigating the whole thing. "They found a package of illegal drugs containing 1 kilogram of methamphetamine inside a bag. It was sent from Thailand to Magelang." Uh oh…
The story even included mention of an Adjunct Senior Commissioner with the Kampar Police, in Riau, named Edy Sumaryadi. It's a real name and a legitimate title. But unfortunately, that's where anything real about this ends.
It took me about five minutes of Googling to find out that the same message was sent around in 2013. The format changed, but the substance remained the same. The National Police said the whole thing was a hoax.
"The public relations division of the police sent out no such message," spokesperson Sr. Com. Martinus Sitompul told local media.
But, like all hoaxes, this story does contain a kernel of truth. Way back in 2012, Thai drug syndicates apparently were mailing drugs to Indonesia. The National Narcotics Agency (BNN) eventually caught wind of the deliveries and shut it down. So when's the last time this happened? Five years ago. Remember readers, always check those dates at the top of a story.
Ahok has snuck out of prison to go swimming
Ah… Jonru Ginting. What are we going to do with you? This (pretty controversial) guy is always out there trying to steal some of the spotlight. He's one of President Jokowi's harshest critics, and he's pretty good at it. He's confrontative, thick skinned, and skilled at dodging questions.
But last week, Jonru decided to warn his readers and fans to stay on the lookout for Ahok sightings. It seemed that the jailed Jakarta governor has been seen living it up in the free world, swimming in the sea out in Belitung Timur and even delivering the opening speeches at events hosted by his buddy the president.
OK, so it doesn't take much to see how little sense this makes. If Ahok was truly free from jail, why would his supporters share photos of their beloved former governor knowing full well the load of shit it would land him and everyone else in? Wouldn't they want to keep it secret?
Also, if these photos are out there, then where's the proof? Where the hell are they? Well Jonru has the answer. He said that if he did share the photos himself, "they will accuse of us of spreading a hoax when, in fact, they are the ones who posted the photos in the first place." Wow. Told you he was good at this.
Sadly, Jonru doesn't have the best track record with validating the facts before he hits send. He's been caught sharing some Photoshopped "proof" before in an attempt to smear Ahok. So, of course, we have every reason to doubt his statement here.
So does anyone know what Ahok is really up to? Of course, his attorney I Wayan Sudirta. He told the press that Ahok is keeping busy with exercise and reading. His favorites are Sam Kok (The Three Kingdom)—an old Chinese legend—and kung fu lessons.
But what about the photos?
"That person must have too much time on their hands," Teguh Samudra, one of Ahok's lawyers, told local media.
Broke? In debt? Don't worry, SwissIndo's got you covered
We saved the best for last. So by now you maybe heard about SwissIndo. If you haven't yet, then you're in luck, because this final story is a blast. So SwissIndo is promising to repay all of your debts with a simple voucher. How you ask? Well that's where the fun begins.
First a quick history lesson. Soekarno was Indonesia's founding father. He was a charming man, a skilled orator, and one of the reasons this great country even exists today. Now some Javanese people believe that the whole reason he was able to topple Dutch colonial rule was because he had received a wahyu (revelation) about what was to come. Oh, and he also mastered klenik (mystical skills) along the way.
The blending of fact and fiction with Soekarno is never ending. Just do a quick Google search and you'll find a huge list of links about keris, spirits, and various mystical rituals that Soekarno allegedly conducted during his presidency.
But by 1965, Soekarno's reign was brought to an end. To many of his fans, the coup and ouster cut short Soekarno's tenure before he could fulfill many of his promises. One of them was the redistribution of a fantastic amount of wealth reportedly held in the form of gold bars stored in a Swiss bank vault. This rumor is so popular that it even made it into a Joko Anwar film.
Well, the people at SwissIndo love the legend too. This group (it's basically a cult) says it has possession of Soekarno's lost gold. The cult is based in Cirebon, West Java, but it's been spreading across Indonesia for years. And in each new city comes reports of new problems.
The latest are in West Sumatra and East Kalimantan. In both provinces, there are people who claim to be from SwissIndo spreading pamphlets around offering a cut of the wealth. In Samarinda, the pamphlets said that anyone could get Rp 15 million ($1,122 USD) per month for the rest of their lives if they join SwissIndo on Indonesian independence day. Similar claims were spreading in Padang as well. Rp 15 million per month for life? Where do we sign up?
But before you run out there and join up with a cult, the Financial Services Authority (OJK) has some advice. "We don't buy it," Muhammad Taufik, head of OJK West Sumatra, told local news. "It doesn't make sense."
The OJK checked. SwissIndo isn't connected to the United Nations, Swiss banks, or any banks here in Indonesia either. Hell, they aren't even paying their members any of this promised cash, Taufik said.
So what is it then? A regular old pyramid scheme.
"The modus operandi of that institution is that to clear someone's debts, the person first needs to pay a registration fee," Taufik said.
A pyramid scheme? How boring. But, wait, there's a ray of hope in this story yet. Turns out the residents of Samarinda weren't buying it when these pushy SwissIndo "marketing agents" started poking around town.
"We told them to go away," Budiono told local media. "It's just not realistic."
Ah, if only everyone was as smart as the people of Samarinda. Oh well, a man can dream…