The Google Inc. logo hangs illuminated at the company's exhibition stand at the Dmexco digital marketing conference in Cologne, Germany, on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

INTERNATIONAL - Indonesia has threatened to bar the world’s biggest social-media providers from operating in the country unless they comply with stringent demands to filter pornography and other content deemed obscene.

Twitter Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and a host of companies have been put on notice by Indonesian Communications Minister Rudiantara, who warned that “all platforms” now face serious consequences if they don’t adhere to government requests to block content.

“The worst case is I will not allow them to be in Indonesia," Rudiantara, who uses one name, said in an interview on Thursday. "We are focusing on content. If you violate content then you are violating rules and laws in Indonesia.”

File picture: AP

A country of 260 million people, Indonesia is a prolific user of social media. But the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population has also become increasingly concerned about its use to spread material related to terrorism and racial violence, as well as pornography and child abuse. Twitter, Google and Facebook are all also blocked in China.

Indonesia last week threatened to block the use of Facebook Inc.’s messaging service WhatsApp unless it removed obscene content available as GIF images. WhatsApp was allowed to continue operating after agreements to filter images and videos were reached with third-party services that provide GIFs.

Summoning Executives

Samuel Abrijani, Director-General for Application and Informatics at the Communications Ministry, said executives from Google and Twitter would be summoned for meetings with government officials to discuss what action they would take to monitor content. He gave no details on timing.

Representatives for Google and Twitter in Asia didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The minister, who’s previously served on the boards of PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia and PT Indosat, said he wanted to work with content providers to help improve the literacy of Indonesians. “They must at this stage help us to filter content that violates the rules and regulations of the country,” he said.

Facebook Users

He said Google has shown “the most good will” and had been receptive to requests to help monitor social media. Facebook, which counts almost 90 million Indonesians among its users, has also previously agreed to work with the government.

Amid the crackdown on social media platforms, President Joko Widodo has also ordered the development of the nation’s digital economy as a priority. The digital economy may be worth $130 billion by 2020, Rudiantara said.

Indonesia has recruited Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. founder Jack Ma as an adviser to help it reach its digital goal, particularly around the development of payment systems and logistics.

"I want to sell Indonesia. I want to make Indonesia more competitive across the international landscape, so I need people like Jack Ma," Rudiantara said. He wants the billionaire businessman to be "a guru for the development of human capital, not only to support Indonesia but to support the region."

Some of the companies caught up in the crackdown have also previously fallen afoul of the Indonesian government over tax compliance. Tax authorities have been in a long-running dispute with Google and have also set their sights on Apple Inc., as well as Twitter, Yahoo! Inc. and Facebook. 

Rudiantara said Thursday that he plans to issue a ministerial decree by the end of the year that will toughen rules for foreign companies operating in the communications sector. The measure, he said, would address three key issues, including ensuring companies pay tax, adhere to their legal obligations and provide customer service.

While they may not necessarily be required to have a local office, they would need to have some kind of presence, such as representation by a third party, he said. Indonesian content providers had complained that they were being “chased” while other companies weren’t paying taxes. 

“There must be a level playing field,” Rudiantara said.

- BLOOMBERG