Indonesia blocks Musk’s X.com under curbs on porn, gambling

Elon Musk’s aspirations for X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, have hit a stumbling block in Indonesia after the site X.com was blocked under the country’s curbs on online pornography and gambling.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Informatics said the site was restricted as the domain had been previously used by sites that did not adhere to the country’s strict laws against “negative” content such as pornography and gambling.

Usman Kansong, the director general of information and public communication at the ministry, said the government had been in contact with X to clarify the nature of the site.

“Earlier today, we spoke with representatives from Twitter and they will send a letter to us to say that X.com will be used by Twitter,” Kansong told local media on Tuesday.

The move means that Indonesians currently cannot access the platform, which reportedly has about 24 million users among the country’s population of 270 million.

Rebranding
The debacle comes after Musk on Monday announced Twitter would be dropping its name and bird logo in favour of a white X on a black background as part of a rebranding of the influential social media platform.

Musk has cast the rebranding, which generated a mixed response among users, as a first step toward transforming the platform into an “everything app” that offers services beyond social networking, such as payments and banking.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, has form when it comes to blocking, or threatening to block, popular websites.

In 2022, authorities said they would block popular sites including Netflix, Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter if they did not make a submission to the ministry detailing the content that appears on their platforms. The sites all managed to avoid the proposed ban by registering before the deadline.

Netflix was blocked by Indonesia’s largest telecommunications company, Telekomunikasi Indonesia, shortly after its launch in 2016 due to fears of “inappropriate content”, including pornography, and remained restricted until mid-2020. TikTok, the popular video-sharing app, was also briefly blocked by authorities in 2018.

“Generally, the ministry blocks websites that are considered to be offensive, criminal or dangerous to social harmony,” Gatria Priyandita, a cyber policy analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told Al Jazeera.

“These may include pornographic materials, sites that violate intellectual property laws, those that incite hate or are filled with false information.”

“Given that Twitter can be freely used in Indonesia, I doubt removing X.com from the list of banned sites would be a great challenge, so long as Twitter can demonstrate that the domain name truly does direct to Twitter,” Priyandita said.

Aribowo Sasmito, the co-founder of MAFINDO, a fact-checking group, said he believed X.com has been blocked as the name had negative connotations.

“The name is not too far from XXX, I guess,” Sasmito told Al Jazeera.

Sasmito said Indonesia’s history of blocking risque online content posed a “dilemma” for internet users in the country.

“Those who prefer freedom are against it but if the context is pornography-related, then it is more related to religious aspects since Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world,” he said.

Sasmito, however, said that online censorship did not always succeed in its aims as users could easily get around the curbs.

“This comes with its own challenges. For example, if a domain or URL is blocked, then the site owners will change the address, if they are blocked again then they will just change the name again,” he said.

Al Jazeera reached out to X for comment and received an automated reply that said: “We’ll get back to you soon”.

Previously, press enquiries sent to press@twitter.com received an automatic reply in the form of a poop emoji.

<<Aljazeera>>