Indonesia Crunch | Fakers and fraudsters and the trouble with platforms

Elderly Vietnamese women in Thành phố Hà Giang, Vietnam. Photo:Pablo Rebolledo/Unsplash

The leaders of big tech firms these days are fighting fires on all fronts. Misconduct scandals, security breaches, falling share prices. When these issues become public knowledge, I admit I experience a bit of Schadenfreude. Who doesn’t like to see a billionaire CEO get grilled?

On the other side of the platform (that’s what these types of companies are often called because they allow other businesses to “dock” onto their IT infrastructure), there’s us, the users. And we’re no angels either.

Two recent pieces from Indonesia explore different aspects of “platform misuse.”

Political buzzers and the legal grey zone

There’s the Guardian’s piece on how political buzzers work. These are people who are paid to post certain social media content to promote politicians, parties, or political agendas, in this case mostly on Twitter.

The article details how much these campaigns cost and who does it (all sides) – and I think it was able to spark a bit of a debate. (To get a topic trending “for a few hours” apparently costs between IDR 1-4  million.)

The IT ministry reacted to it. First, it said that it’s partly a problem of unregistered SIM cards, which makes it easy for people to register multiple accounts. If you remember, the ministry has been trying to enforce a better system for SIM card registration, but that effort is still ongoing.

It also stressed that using social media is part and parcel of a  political campaign. It all boils down to this again: if the buzzers spread content that’s racist, attacks religion, or incites violence, in a way that violates Indonesian law, then it becomes a concern for the authorities. And there’s also the question of who’s responsible for what. Governments want platforms to do a better job at enforcing their own house rules. Like spotting fake accounts likely operated by buzzers. Possibly, limiting the viral spread of fake news and hoaxes.

No one has a full solution to this complicated problem yet, but there’s some movement. In India, where viral fake news have led to real-world violence, WhatsApp is testing what happens if it simply limits the number of people you can forward content to.

Fake orders, fake bonuses

Moving from social media to ride-hailing.

SCMP describes techniques and tricks employed by some drivers to skim off fares and bonuses, even though they did not actually complete those rides. These types of fraud schemes can get quite sophisticated, especially when orchestrated by groups.

The piece describes how different patterns of fraud tend to emerge in different countries – that’s probably because drivers share these tricks with each other. There are so many tutorials about this available online, and street side service stalls that help drivers root their phones to install the app modifications – it’s a whole little industry out there.

From my chats with drivers, they would always say Uber is the most difficult to trick. That’s probably because it’s had the most time to develop fraud detection tools, and Grab and Go-Jek will soon catch up. But as crafty as drivers tend to be here, they’ll probably find new ways to “oprek,” or meddle with the app.

Listening recommendation

This week, I want to direct you to this story by Snap Judgement. It’s about a group of Vietnamese refugees who were stranded on an uninhabited island in Indonesia in the 70s, fighting for their survival, until they were finally found. And how they return 40 years later.

Some of these stories on Snap Judgement are fantastic, and this is one of them. How courageous, tough, and yet kind and forgiving people can be. To use that tired phrase: it puts things in perspective, at least for me.


Nadine Freischlad is a Jakarta-based journalist, writing about technology, business, culture, and other things. Follow her on Twitter @texastee and sign up for her newsletter here