How the Internet Affect Politics and Vice Versa: The Case of Indonesian Internet Censorship in 2019
Mon, 06 Jan 2020 || By Janitra Haryanto

Throughout 2019, Indonesia has experienced several tumultuous events regarding internet censorship. During the chaos after the presidential election voting[1] and the discrimination towards West Papuan students in Surabaya[2] and Wamena[3], the government censored the internet to restrain the dissemination of provocative information. The censorship on the three events ranges from shutting down to slowing down the internet access. Although criticized by many, this same method is also being exercised by governments around the world.[4] Aside from its debatable effectivity, this strategy has sparked debate among governments, scholars, and general internet users.[5] Hence, analyzing the variables that motivate the government to extend the policy will contribute to presenting a more unobstructed view. It is also imperative since the case may indicate the tendency of Indonesia, as a democracy, to adopt ways closer to the authoritarians. This article seeks to highlight the sole motivation underlying the government's decision. It tries to answer why the Indonesian government censors the internet. It argues that the government perceived the domestic situation during the post-voting moment and the conflict in Papua as threatening enough and require a tough regulation.

Internet Censorship and Internal Unrest

Tech scholars Stephen A. Meserve and Daniel Pemstein defined internet censorship as an act of obfuscating, eradicating, and restraining the digital transmission and internet content by the government towards society.[6] Among the four methods of internet censorship by Open Net Initiatives (ONI) (as cited in Subramanian, 2011),[7] this article emphasizes more on the technical blocks – the one with the most controversies and debates. [8]

Furthermore, among the three political determinants of internet censorship coined by Meserve and Pemstein,[9] this article will focus on the relevant political determinant: internal unrest. Meserve and Pemstein argue that the higher the level of internal turmoil in a democratic country, the higher the possibility of the government to exercise internet censorship.[10] Although further study must be conducted to test the causality between the two variables, Meserve and Pemstein’s argument is contextual with the case of Indonesia’s internet censorship.

The Indonesian government perceived three significant events in 2019: (1) the attempt to delegitimize Indonesian Election Commission (KPU) during the post-voting of the presidential election, (2) the attempt to justify the act of separatism for the West Papuan, and (3) the intractable conflict in Wamena. In conclusion, the government perceived two narratives as threats: the government (1) had deceived the democratic process, and (2) was not able to maintain national stability. Politically, it jeopardized the government’s interest to extend its ruling period.

Growing Doubt on the Commitment towards Democracy

In May, the Minister of Internal Affairs stated that there had been an attempt to delegitimize KPU.[11] It argued that a systematic cyber campaign had been conducted to undermine the impartiality of the commission. Social media analysts seconded this argument. According to Drone Emprit, the plan to weaken KPU’s legitimacy was raised on Twitter by using several hashtags; #IndonesiaCallsObservers (311.762 tweets), #IndonesiaCallsCarterCenter (30.083 tweets), and #INAelectionObserverSOS (14.974 tweets).[12] The first and third hashtags were meant to raise the discourse to call external observer, while the second specifically pointed towards Carter Center. 




Figure 1. Drone Emprit’s Report on the Number of Attacks towards KPU[13]

The government seemed to be assuming the narrative as having a perilous potential impact on the government's legitimacy. In the post-reformation era, Indonesia has committed to run its government under democratic principles, whereas a fair election has been maintained as its manifestation. Hence, when KPU was framed to manipulate the result to benefit the incumbent, deep-state conspiracies were to take place. Therefore, the ruling government might have been suspected of abusing power.

The plot could develop worst as it could invite external power to disembark, provoke reelection to take place, and eventually plummeting the chance for the government to stay in power. Later, since it is supposed that the incitement was streaming dominantly through private chat rooms[14], slowing down the internet bandwidth perceived as a more efficient and effective response, rather than taking down social media accounts.

Wavering Trust on the Ability to Preserve Peace and Unity

Five months after the KPU incident, the government decided to adopt a similar policy to resolve two issues related to West Papua. In August, it announced that a coordinated movement had been planned to provoke West Papuans to separate its region from Indonesia.[15] Supporting the claim, Drone Emprit had also captured that the attempt was raised through Twitter, with the hashtags #freewestpapua, #letwestpapuavote, and #westpapuagenocide.[16] Although raised by users believed to be located in cities abroad[17], the virality of the news succeeded in provoking the government to block the whole internet access in West Papua.


Figure 2. Drone Emprit’s Report on the Virality of the West Papua Issue vs. Contending Issue (as cited in Septianto, 2019.)[18]

A month after, a conflict broke in Wamena. Allegedly initiated by discriminatory remarks towards West Papuan high school students, the conflict escalated into a bigger battle. Social media is believed to, then again, being used to intensify the hatred and prolong the conflict. This situation pushed the government to redo the technical blocking. The government stated that the technical blocking in Papua was the only way to moderate the tension since it is unfeasible to restrain the access towards social media only to some areas.[19]

Keeping an eye on internet censorship

United Nations censured limitation of internet access as a human rights violation[20] as the access to receive and deliver information must be open for everyone. In adoption, even though the inclusive virtue dispersed when faced against the state authority, it is imperative to watch the policy for not being misused as a means to cling to power. A robust regulation that clarifies the government's authority, as well as a shared understanding among stakeholders, may conserve an internet limitation policy to stand justifiable. Information about when and how the policy is taken should be kept public to compensate for the limitation of the right to information.

Author: Janitra Haryanto
Editor: Treviliana Eka Putri

Read more article written by Janitra Haryanto


[1] More about the internet censorship on May 22nd, see Persada, S. (2019). Batasi Akses Medsos, Kominfo: Karena Tak Bisa Take Down WhatsApp. [online] Available at

[2] More about the internet censorship in West Papua, see Pratomo, Y. (2019).  Kominfo Blokir Penuh Akses Internet di Papua dan Papua Barat, Sampai Kapan?. Kompas, [online] Available at

[3] More about the internet censorship during the conflict in Wamena, see Tri, R. (2019). Wamena Memanas, Pemerintah Kembali Batasi Layanan Data Internet. [online] Available at [Accessed at 4 Dec 2019]

[4] Internet censorship has been executed in countries such as South Korea, Myanmar, India, Turkey, and Iran. More about case study on internet censorship in other countries, see Subramanian, R. (2011). The Growth of Global Internet Censorship and Circumvention: A Survey. Communications of the IIMA, [online] Vol. 11(2), pp. 69-90. Available at

[5] The debate revolves around the topics of whether it violates freedom of expression and is necessary to take in a particular decision.

[6] Meserve, S. A., and Pemstein, D. (2018). Google Politics: The Political Determinants of Internet Censorship in Democracies. Political Science Research and Methods, [online] Vol. 6(2), p. 247. Available at doi:10.1017/psrm.2017.1.

[7] The four methods are: technical blocking, search result removal, take down, and induced-self censorship. More about the methods, see Subramanian, R. (2011), p. 77.

[8] Aside from the technical blocking method, the Indonesian government adopts the three other methods, such as search result removal to limit access towards pornographic contents, the takedown of websites which perceived to be the source of radicalism and communicate with social media platforms to moderate their content.

[9] The other two variables are the number of intellectual property established in the country and domestic political institution. More about the political determinant of internet censorship in democratic countries, see Meserve, S. A. and Pemstein, D., p. 248.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Hakim, N. R. (2019). Mendagri Sebut Ada Upaya Delegitimasi KPU melalui Hoaks. Kompas [online], Available at [Accessed at 24 Nov 2019].

[12] Fahmi, I. (2019). Analisis Drone Emprit: Ketidakpercayaan Kepada KPU (Periode 22 Maret – 1 April 2019). Drone Emprit, [online] Available at [Accessed at 24 Nov 2019].

[13] Ibid.

[14] BBC Indonesia. (2019). Instagram, WhatsApp: Aplikasi media sosial dibatasi untuk menangkal penyebaran konten hoaks.[online] Available at [Accessed at 4 Dec 2019].

[15] The issue raised after some West Papuan students were assumed to receive racial remarks from Indonesian authorities. More about the case, see BBC Indonesia. (2019). Asrama Papua: Cek fakta kasus bendera merah putih dan makian rasialisme di Surabaya. [online] Available at [Accessed at 4 Dec 2019].

[16] Septianto, B. (2019). Pemblokiran Internet Tak Mampu Menghalangi Isu Papua Mendunia. [online], Available at https:// [Accessed at 24 Nov 2019].

[17], the issue was believed to be raised by users situated in cities abroad, such as Berlin, London, Sydney, Melbourne. More about the located users, see Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Haryanto, A. T. (2019). Kenapa Pemerintah Blokir Internet Papua, Bukan Medsos?. Detik [online] Available at [Accessed at 4 Dec 2019].

[20] Vincent, J. (2016). UN condemns internet access disruption as a human rights violation. Verge [online] Available at [Accessed at 4 Dec 2019].