The freedom of information and of the press, as an inherent part of the freedom of expression, is a foundation of modern democracies. The independence and diversity of the media landscape play important roles in any democracy. They constitute the foundation of public discourse and participation of civil society in democratic decision-making processes. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become more important than ever as sources of information.
Public opinion and discourse on West Papua is manipulated in multiple ways. Standard methods use the internet, particularly the social media platforms Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, or other channels such as websites or blogging platforms. Current efforts of online manipulation vary from disseminating pro-government counter-information to the discreditation of human rights defenders and political activists through smear campaigns. Other strategies require direct involvement from government authorities to prevent or regulate the dissemination of critical content on West Papua. Such methods mainly consist of censorship of websites, criminalisation of human rights defenders, activists and journalists, the blocking of internet access in the interest of national security or the dissemination of manipulated statements. Legitimate Papuan online news outlets reported that their websites are frequently subjected to cyberattacks.
Governments worldwide have recognised the potential and the growing importance of social media in modern society. A research report presented by the University of Oxford revealed that 70 countries used organised social media manipulation campaigns in 2019 to influence public opinion, not only within their territorial borders but also beyond. These campaigns suppress fundamental human rights, discredit political opponents, and silence dissenting views. Indonesia was listed among the countries using multiple forms of manipulation on various social media platforms.
A digital forensic study of cross-platform network analysis revealed two campaigns that use organised online media manipulation to influence public opinion in West Papua. The research mostly covered campaigns targeting an international audience. However, other observers confirmed similar findings for social media accounts and websites which published pro-government information in Bahasa Indonesia.
The Indonesian government also used other forms of intervention to control the flow of information and content. These included the criminalisation of persons disseminating government-critical information, internet shutdowns and censoring or blocking websites publishing data on human rights violations or political independence. The Law on Electronic Information and Transactions is increasingly used to criminalise journalists, human rights defenders and activists, limiting freedom of expression in Indonesia.