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Joint BBC-ASPI investigation into West Papua information operations

By Renee Jones

A joint investigation between the BBC and ASPI's International Cyber Policy Centre analysed a well-funded and co-ordinated information campaign aimed at distorting the truth about events in Indonesia's West Papua province, and has identified those responsible for its operation.

The researchers found that the campaign used slanted or factually untrue content (including “news” articles, infographics and videos) to promote narratives supportive of the Indonesian government’s actions in West Papua, and to undermine the pro-independence movement.

In a context like this in which independent media is restricted and verified information is scarce, a disinformation campaign such as the one the researchers uncovered has the potential to have a substantial impact on how the situation is perceived by the international community. This in turn could have implications for policies and decisions made by other governments, and in international forums such as the UN.

Building off earlier research published on Bellingcat, the researchers used open source data and digital forensics to analyse the campaign's operations across multiple platforms and identify Jakarta-based communications consultancy InsightID as the source of the operation. 

This attribution was then confirmed by Facebook, and later acknowledged by the organisation itself.

A second, smaller campaign was also uncovered. Researchers tracked this campaign back to an individual with political connections. On being approached by the BBC, the individual eventually admitted his role in the campaign but insisted that they had been undertaken in his personal capacity and were not connected to his political work.

The investigation was led by BBC's open source investigator Benjamin Strick and ASPI International Cyber Policy Centre researcher Elise Thomas and included:

  • Coverage of the investigation on the BBC in English and in Indonesian
  • A detailed report outlining the full investigation published on Bellingcat