Suspicious tweets about Papua promoted Indonesian government agenda
ASPI analyzed thousands of suspicious tweets posted in 2021 relating to Indonesia’s Papua region and assessed that they are inauthentic and were designed to promote Indonesian government policies and activities while condemning opponents such as Papuan separatists.
This work continues ASPI’s research collaboration with Twitter focusing on the manipulation of information in the Indo-Pacific to encourage transparency around such activities and norms of behavior conducive to open democracies in the region. .
It follows our August 24 analysis of a dataset consisting of thousands of tweets related to developments in Indonesia in late 2020, which Twitter had removed for violating its platform manipulation and spam policies.
This Papua report focuses on similar Twitter activity from late February to late July 2021 that relates to developments in and around the easternmost region of Indonesia.
This four-month period was marked by several serious security incidents as well as a series of state-sponsored activities and events in the Papua region, then made up of the provinces of West Papua and Papua. These incidents were among many related to the long-running separatist conflict in the region. A report by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission detailed 53 violent incidents in 2021 in the Papua region in which 24 people were killed at the hands of security forces and the armed wing of the separatist Free Papua Organization (OPM) movement, the Liberation Army National Park of West Papua (TPNPB). Jakarta normally refers to this group by the acronym “KKB”, which stands for “Armed Criminal Group”.
This upsurge in violence follows previous cases involving multiple deaths. The most notorious took place in December 2018, when TPNPB insurgents would have been murdered a soldier and at least 16 construction workers working on part of the Trans-Papuan Highway in Nduga Regency in Papua Province (official Indonesian sources put the death toll at 31). The Indonesian government responded by conducting Operation Nemangkawi, a major National Police Security Operation (POLRI) by a task force of police and military units, including additional troops brought in from outside the province. The security operation resulted in bloody clashes, allegations of human rights violations and extrajudicial executionsand the internal displacement of several thousand Papuans, hundreds of whom, according to Amnesty International Indonesia, later died of starvation or disease.
In addition to counter-insurgency actions, an important component of the operation was the creation of Binmas Noken Polri, a community policing initiative to conduct ‘humanitarian police missions or operations‘ and contribute to ‘community empowerment’ through programs covering education, agriculture and tourism development. “Noken” refers to a traditional Papuan bag that native Papuans consider a symbol of “dignity, civilization and life”. Binmas Noken Polri was initiated by then National Police Chief Tito Karnavian, the same person who created the recently disbanded and shadowy Red and White Special Task Force highlighted in our August 24 report.
A key development occurred in April 2021 when separatists killed the regional head of the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) in an ambush. Following other killings by separatists (including that of two teachers suspected of being police spies earlier this month), this prompted the government to declare the KKB in Papua – i.e. telling the TPNPB “and its affiliated organizations” – terrorists and President Joko Widodo to order a crackdown on the group. Nine suspected insurgents were killed soon after.
In May 2021, hundreds more troops from outside Papua deployed to the province, some of whom were part of an elite battalion dubbed “Satan’s forces” which had gained notoriety during conflicts earlier in the Indonesian province of Aceh and East Timor.
During the same month, there were large-scale protests in Papua and elsewhere on government action to renew and revise the Special Home Rule Act, under which the region had enjoyed special rights and benefits since 2001. The protests included protests organized by Papuan activists and students in Jakarta and in the Javanese cities of Bandung and Yogyakarta from 21 to 24 May. The revised law was introduced by Karnavian, who was then (and still is) Indonesia’s Minister of Home Affairs.
The period also saw ongoing preparations for the organization of National Sports Week (PON) in Papua. Delayed a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the event finally took place in October at several purpose-built venues across the province.
The dataset we analyzed represents a diverse collection of thousands of tweets posted under hashtags such as #BinmasNokenPolri, #MenolakLupa (Refuse to Forget), #TumpasKKBPapua (Annihilate Papuan Armed Criminal Group), #PapuaNKRI (State Papua Unitary of the Republic of Indonesia), #Papua and #BongkarBiangRusuh (Uncover the culprits of the riots).
Most were overtly political, either associating the Indonesian state with success and public benefits for Papuans or condemning opponents of the state as criminals, and sometimes doing both in the same tweet. Among several tweets under #Papua proclaiming that the province is ready to host the next PON thanks to Jakarta’s investment in facilities and security, 18 sent on June 25 proclaimed: “PAPUA IS READY TO IMPLEMENT PON 2020!” !! Papua is safe, peaceful and already ready to implement PON 2020, so there is no need to be afraid. The KKB shootings… are a long way from the PON cluster [the various sports facilities] … So everyone #ponpapua #papua’.
Many of the tweets were clearly aimed at shaping public perceptions of separatists and other protesters of the state. Under #MenolakLupa in particular, many tweets related to past and contemporary acts of violence by separatists. Two sets of tweets from March 22 and 24 that recall the 2018 separatist attack in Nduga are particularly notable, in that they both injected the term “terrorist” into the armed criminal group moniker that the state was using so far, making it “KKTB”. . This was a month before the official designation of the OPM as a terrorist organization.
As if to underscore the terrorist nature of the OPM, subsequent tweets under #MenolakLupa carried this loaded terminology. For example, tweets from June 15 stated that in 2017 “KKTB committed sexual violence” against no less than 12 women in two villages in Papua. A fortnight later, another series of tweets said that in 2018 the armed terrorist criminal group took 14 teachers hostage and took turns raping one of them, causing him “trauma”. Others claimed that former separatists had converted to the cause of the unitary Indonesian state and thus recognized its sovereignty over Papua.
Some tweets relate directly to specific contemporary events. Take for example the flurry of tweets posted on July 24 and 25 in response to protests against the renewal of the special autonomy law which underline the irresponsibility of demonstrations during the pandemic, such as: “Let’s reject the invitation to demonstrate and don’t we are not easily provoked by irresponsible [malign] people. Stay home and always stay healthy.” Others are tweets posted under #TumpasKKBPapua after the murder of the two teachers, such as: “Surely every religion in the world opposes murder or any other such offense, let alone this teacher.” Secure the land of the Bird of Paradise’.
Other tweets warn Papuans not to succumb to allegations of ‘hoaxing’ the behavior of security forces or other allegations from overseas-based OPM spokespersons such as Benny Wenda and Veronica Koman . April 1 tweets under #PapuaNKRI, for example, warned recipients not to “believe KKB media propaganda, let’s be smart and wise in using media lest we be influenced by fake news.”
Many of the tweets in the dataset are surprisingly mundane, with content that state agencies have already, or would have been, openly publicizing. A February 27 tweet under #Papua, for example, announced that the Minister of Transport would prioritize the construction of transport infrastructure in the two provinces.
Those under #BinmasNokenPolri often echoed advice that recipients of the tweet might as well see on other outlets, such as the official POLRI website Binmas Noken. Some were public announcements about market conditions and community policing events where, for example, people could receive government assistance such as rice, basic items and other forms of support. Most reflected Binmas Noken’s community engagement focus, ranging from a series on May 20 promoting a child’s “trauma healing” session with Binmas Noken staff to another tweeted on June 20 announcing a badminton competition involving villages and the police organized under the Nemangkawi task force. On June 20, another 34 tweets stated that “in a healthy body is a strong mind”, the first nine of which began with the same general sentiment expressed in the Latin motto derived from the Roman poet Juvenal, “Mens sana in corpore sano”. . (Presumably, after that first group of tweets, it occurred to the sender that his classical scholarship was likely to be lost to native Papuan residents.)
As with the tweets analyzed in our August 24 report, based on behavior patterns in the data, we believe these tweets are likely to be inauthentic, i.e., they are the result of a coordinated and covert activity intended to influence public rather than organic opinion. expressions by real users on the platform.
Without conclusively identifying the responsible actors, we believe the tweets reflect the Widodo government’s overall stance on the Papuan region as an inalienable part of the Indonesian state, as well as the government’s security policies and development agenda in the region. The vast majority are intentional: By promoting government policies and activities and condemning opponents of those policies (whether separatists or protesters), tweets are clearly designed to persuade recipients that the state provides vital public goods such as security, development and basic support. in the face of malevolent and hostile forces, and therefore that being Indonesian is in their interest.