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Indonesian interfaith group goes into battle against fake news

Young activists vow to counter social, religious and racial divisions stoked by false information spread on social media

Indonesian interfaith group goes into battle against fake news

Members of the Indonesian Millennial Friends, or Samindo group, express their commitment to becoming social and digital literacy agents to protect diversity on Nov. 11 in Jakarta. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari/ucanews.com)

Nearly 150 Indonesian "millennials" said they will become "social and digital literacy agents" to protect diversity and combat a rise in social divisions and intolerance, especially in politics, that threatens national unity.

The Indonesian Millennial Friends made the commitment during a "Promoting Tolerance" program jointly held by the interfaith group and human rights group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace on Nov. 11 in Jakarta. 

Many of these threats have been stoked through misinformation and hoaxes spread over social media, they said.

"We worry about a rise in social, political, legal and cultural divisions spawned by political elites over the last two years. We also worry about intolerant, radical and violent attitudes circulating among the young generation," said Fikrah Fakhrullah, a student at the Institute of Social and Political Science in East Jakarta, who read out the commitment on behalf of the group also known as Samindo.

Believing that the nation's future can be built only by unity and that information technology can be an instrument for the advancement of civilization, he said group members are "committed to becoming social agents to unite our plural society and digital literacy agents to promote the use of information technology including social media in a wise way." 

Fakhrullah pointed to the use of religious and racial issues by many politicians to attack their opponents. "Jakarta's former Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was a prime example," he said.

Purnama, who was running for a second term as governor, was jailed for two years for insulting the Quran in May 2017. Prior to the verdict, mass protests were held by hardline Islamist groups who used his Christian and ethnic Chinese background to turn voters against him.

Much of this "character assassination" was carried out via social media platforms.

Samindo member Patrick Santoso said he and other members of the group would expose fake news and set the record straight. "Political activities are so cruel nowadays — they will make anything up to tear us apart," he said.

Samindo's founder Disna Riantina said the decision to act came after a Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace survey revealed some alarming views among young people in Indonesia.

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The survey conducted in 2015 among 684 senior high school students across Java revealed 7.2 percent agreed with actions and atrocities committed by IS fighters in Syria and Iraq, and 75.3.

"The survey's result showed some very dangerous views," Riantina said.

According to her, next year's presidential and legislative elections would be the right stage for the group to express their commitment.

President Joko Widodo is seeking a second term in the poll due to take place in April against the loser of the last election race, Prabowo Subianto.

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