Policing Technology in Indonesia

Internet Positif:  A website frequently encountered by Indonesians, especially men. The strikingly red background is symbolic of government bureaucracy that stands between people and a world of simple pleasures. To most people, it’s not really a problem because they grow accustomed to hacking around any digital restrictions, which explains why lots of Indonesian teenagers are highly skilled when it comes to this.  Yet, we tend to forget that the familiar red webpage is actually an impedance towards a fully developed creative industry. Now, I am going to steer clear from the over-debated issues on internet policing’s effects on democracy, or whether censorship is effective in correcting Indonesia’s moral attitudes (it never had been and would never be, as evidenced by the popularity of Maria Ozawa between male teenagers). Instead, let’s look at how censorship and regulatory uncertainty has impaired the growth of intellectual property based economy, and how the government should change its approach.

It is rarely well-understood by the public how censorship impedes the growth of the creative economy. This is due to the rather inconspicuous nature of the relationship between the two. An illustration of this impediment would be how censorship enables the development of monopolies, such as Telkom blocking Netflix in order to advance its own iFlix service. (While officially Telkom bans Netflix due to inappropriate content, the giant telecommunications company ironically hints that it would lift the ban if Netflix is willing to exclusively partner with them). Indonesia does not have a net neutrality law, and does permit governmental monopoly over several sectors. However, it is questionable whether digital entertainment is covered under the clause of “important strategic industry”, a term used to describe whether an industry should be rightfully controlled by the government because it is contributing significantly to the national economy, such in the case of petrol and arms.

Censorship also decreases the ability for individuals to create content. This not only limits what they can include in their content, but puts them at risk of getting sued if someone disagrees or feels offended.  Censorship is not only about nudity and pornography, but also blasphemy, insulation, and other offensive-based charges. One of the most recent notable cases of this issue occurred to Kaesang, the son of the current Indonesian president, who got reported for blasphemy. The charge, however, was soon dropped. The Indonesian laws regarding the freedom of speech are very vague, and judicial decision concerning the charges are heavily influenced by popular opinion rather than an objective legal process. It is also very muchly politically motivated, as exemplified by the arrest of many meme makers who criticised Setya Novanto. This legal uncertainty creates a hostile environment towards content creators, and thus impedes the development of an intellectual property industry.

Nevertheless, the issue with censorship does not end with content creators needing to secure an insurance for the freedom of expression. These active users also need to know the stable availability of certain social media platforms before they invest the resources necessary to create good contents or services.  YouTubers, for example, need to know that YouTube would not be blocked by the government before they invest their time, effort and money into producing a video. Furthermore, social media marketing agencies need to know whether Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter would be available for Indonesian citizens if they were to consider these platforms as target markets. After all, digital content is expected to replace traditional media and become independent from the latter platform. Therefore, we need to make access to digital content economically viable and justifiable for people to invest in media content. Companies must be able to make sure that they will be able to profit from digitisation and not get their platform banned due to vague rules. For instance Gojek, Indonesia’s first startup to exceed one billion dollar in revenue, often receives threats of bans because it competes with  traditional transport providers. This demonstrates the fragility of Indonesia’s current digital industry due to regulatory uncertainty.

Subsequently, fluctuating and uncertain censorship makes it hard to monetize creative content and intellectual property. Digital platforms and their materials need stability for monetization to happen. For example, the Indonesian Minister of Informations once made a threat to block YouTube threat despite stating otherwise a year before. This further demonstrates the government’s pre-existing uncertainty when it comes to dealing with censorships. As a result, profit-seeking companies are hesitant to sponsor YouTubers amidst rumors that  YouTube would be blocked. No exchange of goods or services means no monetisation, which in turn indicates no economic incentive that is supposedly the blood regulating and running through the veins of any industry.

In order to develop the Indonesian digital industry, it is significant to provide an intellectual industry-friendly internet access for the public. This also necessitates a change to Indonesia’s current approach to censorship and digital services regulation. The most significant economic effect of  censorship is produced not by the actual practice of banning itself, but by the resulting uncertainty surrounding the stability of the online media platforms. What the government needs are clear-cut and simple rules. Here are some regulations that I am proposing: simplify censorship rules into the internationally recognised standards of no genitalia, and ensure the total freedom of expression when it comes to content as long as there is no pornography. This is for the sake of simplicity since many major digital platforms have already recognized these standards and implemented it according to their own measures. Secondly, the government should ease the implementation of digital business ideas and models by reconsidering and revising trade and services regulations in the transport industry. This includes, but not limited to, allowing individuals to operate as rideshare drivers and introducing security standards for digital payments. The government should also adopt a net neutrality rule to prevent conflict of interest from competing Internet Service Providers while improving telecommunications infrastructure to provide better and speedier networking system. The bottom line is, in order to develop a successful digital-creative industry, the government must iron out its policies into one that is simple and clear while cultivating a trustworthy legal atmosphere that is friendly to both content creators and investors. In this way, the government can also benefit from the transaction and asset flow within the national economy.