The Indonesian Communication and Information Ministry (Kominfo) has urged social media companies to ensure safety of their platforms after a message app was allegedly used in an underage prostitution case. The Greater Jakarta Metropolitan Regional Police recently found that sex traffickers offered underage girls via Singapore-based app MiChat in South Tangerang, southwest of the capital.
“We asked for a commitment from the instant messaging companies to take down accounts that are misused for illegal activities, including online prostitution,” said minister Johnny G. Plate in a statement on Saturday.
The case came to light after police last week raided the Alona Hotel located in the suburb, and found 15 girls between 14 and 16-years old, that have been offered as sex workers there, according to local media reports. Three people were arrested—the hotel owner and manager, as well as the ring leader.
“The pimp used a social media platform MiChat to offer the victims to perverts,” said police spokesman Yusri Yunus in a press conference. Facebook-owned WhatsApp was also part in some transactions.
The police further investigated digital records related to the case to determine how long the illegal business had been run. Indonesia has tough anti-pornography laws, and prostitution is illegal in the country.
It is not the first time that MiChat has been involved in these type of incidents. In 2019, it faced a threat ban from Kominfo after numerous reports of prostitution cases. “MiChat itself already has representatives in Indonesia, and has committed to take down accounts that are abused by Indonesian netizens for appointments or to promote online prostitution, based on reports by Kominfo, Polri (Indonesian Police), or the public,” minister Plate said.
Launched in 2018, MiChat allows users to get acquainted with nearby persons outside of their contact list through its ‘message in a bottle’ feature. In the description on Apple’s App Store, the platform introduces itself as a mixture of free messaging and online dating app. In Indonesia, MiChat has been used by sex workers to find clients.
Even though MiChat says that it bans users for offering sex services, following its community guidelines, the review section is full of complaints about the proliferation of prostitutes and fake accounts.
The app hasn’t published user numbers in Indonesia. Globally, it has accumulated 10 million downloads ranking fifth “free communication application” in Google Play’s store in the country, according to App Annie. Its abuse is not limited to Indonesia. In February, Malaysian police busted a syndicate in the state of Kelantan for allegedly offering women, who are believed to be single mothers, as sex workers via the app.
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