Indonesia asks Facebook, WhatsApp to block ‘gay emoji’

If you’re in Indonesia and looking for a rainbow flag emoji to message a friend, you’re out of luck.

On Thursday, the country’s Ministry of Communication and Informatics announced a plan to ask Facebook, WhatsApp, and other popular messaging apps to remove or block emoji and stickers that are perceived as LGBT-friendly.

The conservative Southeast Asian country—home to the world’s largest Muslim population—saw a flurry of social media complaints about allegedly gay stickers on the messaging app Line. That company ceded to public pressure on Tuesday, filtering out the stickers from the app’s local version.

“Social media must respect the culture and local wisdom of the country where they have large numbers of users,” said the Ministry’s spokesperson Ismail Cawidu on Thursday, as TIME reported.

On the same day, Human Rights Watch posted a public letter to Indonesian president H. E. Joko Widodo, asking him to tone down the “recent spate of hateful rhetoric by public officials against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people” there. According to the letter, a pattern of “arbitrary arrests,” harassment, and violence has targeted members of the country’s LGBT community in recent months—and statements made by government officials aren’t helping.

“The LGBT community should not be allowed to grow or be given room to conduct its activities,” the HRW letter quotes Indonesian congressman M. Nasir Djamil saying in early February. “Even more serious is those LGBT members who go into universities with scientific studies, or hold discussion groups.”

Despite oppressive policies and a lack of anti-discrimination laws, Indonesian LGBT groups have remained active, holding public protests and campaigning for better representation in media. In January, the Jakarta Post reported, LGBT groups met with journalists for a weekend conference on improving the media’s depictions of LGBT people.

According to a 2015 survey by advocacy group Arus Pelangi, 89 percent of LGBT Indonesians reported being targets of violence because of their sexual orientation or gender expression.

Facebook has not yet publicly responded to Indonesia’s demand that it block LGBT-themed emoji. The Daily Dot emailed a request for comment to Facebook but did not immediately receive a reply.

Illustration via Fernando Alfonso III | Remix using EricAndrewLewis (1) and EricAndrewLewis (2)

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.