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Google training 'trusted flaggers' for Indonesia

Transparent, sensitive new approach to combat fake news, hate speech

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A sticker reading 'Review us on Google' is pictured at a computer store in Jakarta, on June 15.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Google has promised to pioneer a program that trains locals to identify problematic content on the web to help Indonesia combat fake news and radicalism.

The world's most populous Muslim nation has contended with rising religious tension and heated election campaigns, and has been dogged by fake news and hate speech on social media. Google's program is thought to be the first of its kind in Asia.

Over the past week, the government has reached out for solutions to major social media companies, including Facebook and Telegram, an encrypted messaging service.

After meeting on Friday with Google representatives, Communications Minister Rudiantara said the trusted flagger program is already being tested. "We hope it can hit the road in two or three months -- or even faster," he told reporters.

Ann Lavin, Google's director for public policy and government affairs in Southeast Asia and China, said Google is partnering Indonesia's communications and information ministry to train local flaggers to "review, analyze, and judge" problematic content. Lavin said the U.S. company is working closely with "highly-sensitive, well-trained users" so that such material can be removed more quickly.

Because of the sensitivity of the subject matter, and to foster a "transparent process", Lavin said experts and local civil society groups are being involved. These include the Wahid Institute, the Indonesian Anti-Slander Community (Mafindo), and ICT Watch, a non-profit, civil society watchdog established in 2002.

Rudiantara said he supports ICT's involvement and transparency generally because the government does not want to be regarded as a "regime of censorship." He said there was a need to protect Indonesians from illegal content, particularly relating to radicalism, terrorism, and drugs.

The flagger system will replace a previous mechanism that involved the government sending e-mails to Google requesting takedowns of negative content. It was regarded as only half successful.

"We don't want the other half to snowball," said Rudiantara. He said controls may also be applied to Google Search similar to those on Youtube, which already has a flagging/reporting mechanism. "These are technical issues that we will continue to discuss," he said.

According to Lavin, such strategies have been applied in the U.S and parts of Europe, but this might be the first time in Southeast Asia.

Rudiantara also met representatives of Twitter on Friday. The government wants to develop a special channel to remove tweets that are illegal in Indonesia, including pornography and "insults to state symbols" -- a ministry official said.

Earlier this week, the minister met Pavel Durov, Telegram's co-founder and chief executive. He agreed to respond more quickly to the government's requests to close public channels evidently being used by terrorists for propaganda and recruitment.

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