TikTok Removes ‘Anti-Palestinian’ Content at Indonesia’s Request

This photo taken on November 21, 2019, shows the logo of the social media video sharing app Tiktok displayed on a tablet screen in Paris. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP) (Photo by LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)
LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images

The information technology ministry of Indonesia said Friday that it asked social media platform TikTok to restrict content deemed insulting to Palestinians, and the request was granted, with several audio tracks removed from public circulation.

“TikTok has restricted audio so that it can no longer be used,” said ministry spokesman Dedy Permadi. “The audio content was categorized in its high-risk library so we should expect that it won’t come up again.”

Coconuts Jakarta called the news part of a “disturbing trend” on Indonesian TikTok over the past week during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which “young people are bashing Palestine and its people amid the ongoing crisis in the Middle-East.”

“This has resulted in the expulsion of a high school student in Bengkulu, as well as the arrest of a 23-year-old man in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) who now faces six years in prison under the Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE),” the article said, its tone suggesting the part of the story its authors found “disturbing” was the anti-Palestinian speech, not the censorship.

The 23-year-old who faces six years in prison is an unnamed janitor who posted a video calling for the “slaughter” of Palestinian “pigs.” The 16-year-old high school student was expelled for “posting a similar message.”

As Reuters noted Wednesday, Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation and a “staunch supporter of Palestine,” so the janitor was quickly visited by local police and charged with making “slanderous Tiktok content against the state of Palestine with inappropriate words.”

A local television station said the imprisoned janitor “has since apologized and said that he had mistaken Palestine for Israel.”

Indonesia’s ITE censorship law has been criticized for enabling political suppression and imposing heavy penalties based on vague charges, including flimsy allegations of “blasphemy” against Islam. As the janitor in West Nusa Tenggara discovered, the law authorizes police to arrest people for social media posts or private emails that find their way into the hands of the authorities.

The standards for “hate speech” in the ITE are so vague that Indonesian critics call it “pasal karet” – the endlessly stretchable “rubber law.” 

One of its infamous early victims was a suburban mom who found herself fighting a years-long legal battle against defamation charges because she went online to complain about getting poor service at a hospital. Another woman got two months in jail plus a fine for complaining that people in a certain town were rude. In 2021, a schoolteacher was jailed and fined because she grew tired of receiving obscene phone calls from her principal and posted one of them online to embarrass him.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered a review of the ITE in March.

“I understand that the spirit of the ITE law is to safeguard Indonesia’s digital space – to make it clean, healthy, civilized and productive. But the implementation should not create a sense of injustice,” he said.

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