Papua Conflict

Facebook Removed Hundreds of Accounts for Allegedly Spreading Propaganda in Indonesia

Accounts that shared content in favour of independence in the Papua region were linked to an Indonesian media firm.
Jayapura residents demonstrated in Papua
Jayapura residents demonstrated on September 23, 2019. Photo by Faisal Narwawan/AFP

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

Last week, tech giant Facebook removed hundreds of accounts that regularly posted about issues in Indonesia's West Papua, where violent protests are ongoing as minorities seek independence from the Indonesian government. Facebook suspected that these are fake accounts because they showed “coordinated inauthentic behaviour.”

In a statement released on October 3, Facebook said it removed 69 Facebook accounts, 42 pages, and 34 Instagram accounts linked to this behaviour after thorough investigations.

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“The people behind this network used fake accounts to manage Pages, disseminate their content and drive people to off-platform sites,” the statement reads. The network spent US$300,000 on Facebook ads.

Facebook’s Head of Security Nathaniel Gleicher said that while people tried to conceal their identities, they found that many accounts were linked to the Indonesian media firm InsightID.

According to Gleicher, these fake accounts were created to upload questionable content about West Papua in both English and Indonesian. Some pages support the independence movement, while others criticised it.

Papua has long desired independence after being forced to join the Republic of Indonesia through the 1962 New York Agreement. However, Indonesia is determined to keep Papua as part of the nation.

Papuans, a racial and religious minority in Indonesia, often experience discrimination and protests for their independence have often led to violence. The content shared by the fake Facebook accounts are believed to heighten tensions.

InsightID was linked to accounts that promoted independence but has denied having this agenda.

"InsightID values the unity of Indonesia. Facebook removed our account for technical reasons, not because our posts contained disinformation,” it said in a written statement sent to VICE.

Not much is known about the company.

“When people ask about us, what INSIGHTID actually does? Well, mostly we do research, plan and execute an integrated PR and digital marketing program,” its website, which was down as of posting time, said.

On Friday, Facebook Indonesia clarified to CNN Indonesia that the deleted accounts did not violate their misinformation policy. “The accounts were removed because it showed coordinated inauthentic behaviour,” it said.

Indonesian Minister of Communication and Information Rudiantara told local media that the decision to remove those accounts came purely from Facebook and that the government wasn’t involved in this action. The Indonesian government has been trying to silence activists who post regular updates on what is going on in Papua.

It’s still unclear whether Facebook will impose the same policy on accounts known as “buzzers” that spread fake news. Most recently, they were caught spreading erroneous information about the student protests across Indonesia.