Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Debate on Internet’s Limits Grows in Indonesia

Indonesia — Displeased that a statue of a 10-year-old Barack Obama was installed in a park here, Indonesians took their protest not to this capital’s most famous traffic circle but to Facebook. More than 56,000 online protesters later, city officials gave in to arguments that the park should be reserved to honor an Indonesian.

This example of high-tech grass-roots organizing was the direct result of the explosion of social networking in Indonesia. But the boom is prompting a fierce debate over the limits of free expression in a newly democratic Indonesia, with the government trying to regulate content on the Internet and a recently emboldened news media pushing back.

Proponents of greater freedom view social networking as a vital tool to further democratize this country’s often corrupt political system. Skeptics, especially among politicians and religious leaders, worry about mob rule and the loss of traditional values.

In its latest move, the government recently proposed a bill that would require Internet service providers to filter online content but was forced to shelve it after vociferous protest online and in the mainstream media.

Thanks to relatively cheap cellphones that offer Internet access, Facebook, Twitter and local social networking media have rapidly spread from cities to villages throughout Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia and the Philippines. In a little over a year, the number of Indonesian Facebook users has skyrocketed to more than 21 million from fewer than a million — the world’s third largest number of Facebook users.

With tens of millions of people now instantly connected, social networking has quickly become a potent, though sometimes unpredictable, political force.

Protests on Facebook and other sites successfully backed leaders of this country’s main anticorruption agency who, in a long-running feud against the national police and the attorney general’s office, had apparently been set up and arrested on false charges. The online anger prompted President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to intercede; the police and the attorney general’s office, considered among the country’s most corrupt institutions, dropped the case and released the officials in November.

To read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/world/asia/20indonet.html?ref=asia

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