Welcome to Can't Handle the Truth , VICE Indonesia's summary of the most popular and most talked about hoaxes and fake news circulating this week.
Sorry everyone, it's been a really shitty week. Hoaxes and fake news aren't something we should take lightly, even though sometimes they are so obvious that we can't help but laugh.
But not this week. Nope, the stuff we have this week was all centered on one idea: spreading fear amongst the people. These stories, whether they're racist, dangerous, or just straight-up wrong. It's enough to really make me want to call my doctor and ask for some Xanax. It's just too much.
And this isn't even looking at this week's real news: the intimidation of a teenager accused of offending Habib Rizieq Shibab, ISIS seized a city in the Philippines—with the help of a lot of Indonesian jihadis—and US President Donald Trump decided, what the hell, the future of the planet totally isn't worth it.
Then, on top of all of this, we've got these hoaxes. At least it keeps us at VICE Indonesia pretty busy. Yay. So here we go, this week's "Can't Handle the Truth."
How do you confuse a parade and a riot?
So things have been heating up in West Kalimantan, where the mayor of Pontianak and the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) aren't exactly the best of friends. So, of course, someone is going to come along and try to take advantage of the situation.
A totally fake story hit our beloved WhatsApp groups (just stop believing these things everyone!) that warned Muslims living in Pontianak to avoid the Gajahmada-Veteran Road, a location where, according to the hoax, angry Dayak people were out for blood. The story claimed that the Dayak were carrying mandau, or sabers, with them.
The whole thing was "perfected" with a photo (of course) of Dayak people carrying the weapons through the city, allegedly ready to attack. The story hit social media the same day Islamists held a long march from Kelompok Bela Ulama to the West Kalimantan Regional Police Headquarters in a protest urging the police to protect freedom of speech and the ulemas in their jurisdiction.
But guess what? It was all a lie. Those costumes and weapons? Part of a parade traditionally held to celebrate the harvest season. That parade, which was held on 20 May, concluded without incident, despite hoaxes claiming otherwise.
"There was no torture or chaos at the event," National Police Spokesman Brig. Gen. Rikwanto told local media.
Pontianak Police Chief Brig. Gen. Iwan Imam Susilo said the whole hoax was an effort by someone online who wanted to enflame tensions in Pontianak. "Most of those are old photos that had nothing to do with the [Dayak parade]," he said.
There was a hoax calling the May 98 rapes a hoax
OK, so you might have read our own story on the mass rape of Chinese Indonesian women during the riots of May 1998, and thought, wow, those women need justice. But maybe you read a certain other story claiming that the rapes were all made up. So who should you believe?
Probably former Indonesian President BJ Habibie, who helped set up the fact-finding mission as he guided the nation out of the turmoil of `98. Our reporter recently asked Habibie about the rapes when he was at an event marking the sad anniversary of the event. He said, "yes, [the rapes] happened. They happened."
Furthermore, numerous witnesses are still alive today and most are willing to go on the record about what they saw.
So what's up with this other story? The entire thing is built on the back of a US court case from more than a decade ago (not exactly a scoop is it?) concerning an immigration fraud ring run by an Indonesian immigrant living in Virginia. In that case, a man named Hans Gouw was running a human trafficking ring, forging fake asylum claims to get Chinese Indonesian women into the United States. Hans and his partner Harjanto Komala then took the women's passports and forced them to work as strippers or in brothels.
Hans was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for his role in the trafficking ring.
Seventeen others, people who weren't involved in the sex trafficking ring but were still defrauding the US government by filing fake asylum claims, also faced trial. Those people were also writing fake asylum applications alleging rape.
So what does this mean? It means that almost two dozen shitty people living in the US—two of which were downright reprehensible—were involved in an immigration fraud ring that tried to use the very real, and very tragic events of May 1998 to commit a crime.
But a handful of criminals in the US doesn't cancel out claims from hundreds of victims of rape, now does it? So the next time you see an article refuting something that clearly happened, take a a second and think about it. Were these rapes all a hoax meant to "humiliate the nation"? Or is the fact that no one still wants to do anything about this the really sad part? Don't trust everything you read online.
There isn't a Hepatitis outbreak in Bandung
So many of these stories aim to do little more than spread fear. Take a recent hoax circulating in Bandung, West Java, that area hospitals were reporting a dramatic spike in new Hepatitis infections. The story claimed that Hasan Sadikin Hospital admitted 80 people with Hepatitis A, and at nearby Immanuel Hospital, there were another 40 patients. According to the fake story, the patients were catching the virus from food in an area of the city known for producing a lot of the city's food.
"The data is false," said Rita Verita Sri Hasniarty, the head of the Bandung Health Department, told a local radio station.
The local health department checked with area hospitals and discovered that there wasn't a rise in Hepatitis A infections. The management of the hospitals never even released data about Hepatitis A infections in the first place, Rita explained.
This is the kind of health news that gets our grandmas all worked up. Time and time again, these stories end up in WhatsApp messages from concerned parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, who read the news and immediately feel concerned. It's frustrating, sad, and we a stress on people who don't need to be stressed out. They've already lived through enough stress in their long lives.
So if you're behind these fake health stories, we have a request: just knock it off.