Saturday, February 20, 2010

Indonesia's Dangerous Love Affair With Facebook

Indonesians really love Facebook, even though all it seems to do is land them in trouble. This week a teenage girl narrowly avoided jail for posting insulting comments on another girl's profile page. Farah Nur Arafah was convicted of defaming her Facebook friend Felly Fandini after calling her a slutty, overweight pig on the popular social networking site.

Arafah's outburst, which was sparked by fears Fandini was trying to steal her boyfriend, led to a 75-day suspended jail sentence. Arafah's was the latest in a string of Facebook-related cases that have fallen foul of Indonesia's notoriously draconian defamation laws.

Jakarta mother of two Prita Mulyasari became a national hero last year after she was charged for complaining about a hospital's misdiagnosis in an email to friends that was later posted on Facebook. After an incredible ordeal that saw Prita jailed for three weeks a court in December finally ruled her innocent.

The court found what all fair-minded Indonesians could plainly see: criticising a hospital for poor service was not defamation. But prosecutors - who want Prita jailed for six months - have vowed to appeal. And the hospital is continuing with a civil lawsuit against her.

Facebook is landing Indonesians in hot water in other ways too.

There were the four school kids who were expelled for posting murder and mutilation threats against their teacher. There was the guy who was arrested for posting a nude photo of his girlfriend and thereby falling foul of Indonesia's anti-porn laws. And there was the guy who was arrested for adultery after a tryst with a married woman he met on Facebook. Her profile reportedly said she was single and "looking for love".

More concerning, two men were arrested this month for allegedly using Facebook and Yahoo Messenger to find recruits for their underage child trafficking and prostitution ring.

Of course, it's not all bad.

Indonesians have also used Facebook as a powerful tool to support anti- corruption efforts and the wrongly accused. Indeed, when Prita was locked up, tens of thousands of Indonesians joined a Facebook group to voice anger that quickly forced authorities to release her. By Adam Gartrell, South-East Asia Correspondent

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