The Year in Indonesian Social Media

By : Abdul Qowi Bastian & Benjamin Soloway | on 4:30 PM December 30, 2013
Category : Tech, Archive

The numbers speak for themselves — more than two percent of the world's tweets originate in Jakarta alone, and Bandung produces more tweets than Los Angeles or Paris.

But there's a story the numbers can't tell: the joyous, terrible, petty and beguiling sagas that unfold in minutes; the lightning-fast twists and turns of Indonesia's information-hungry social media universe, where yesterday feels like last year and today's trends are tomorrow's has-beens.

Here, we look back at 12 months of Twitter tantrums, Instagram kurfuffles and YouTube dustups — a year in the life of Indonesian social media.

1. SBY takes to Twitter

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono joined Twitter in March and he hasn't looked back since.

He is the seventh-most-followed world leader on the site.

On April 15, he composed his first tweet:

"Hello Indonesia. I joined the twitter world to share greetings, views and inspiration. Greetings. *SBY*"

Yudhoyono seems to take social media quite seriously. When allegations that Australia had been spying on Indonesia surfaced in November, he first stated his stance in a series of angry tweets condemning his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott.

For Yudhoyono, Twitter is more than an outreach tool — it is a primary means of communication and an appropriate platform for diplomacy.

@SBYudhoyono signs the tweets he writes himself with his initials, sandwiched between asterisks: *SBY*

He follows mostly celebrities, rarely replies to his followers and uses Facebook and YouTube to deliver longer messages.

But on December 10, he responded when @thejakartaglobe asked him via Twitter to explain his views on condoms in HIV/AIDS prevention.

"Condoms are indeed effective to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission, but the campaign should not be incorrect. We have religious norms and Eastern culture," he wrote. "The most important method in HIV/AIDS prevention is restraining one’s self from doing things that will get them infected."

2. First Lady Ani shows some serious sass on Instagram

First Lady Ani Yudhoyono joined photo-sharing site Instagram not long after her husband jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. Known for her penchant for snapping photos with a professional-quality SLR even during official state visits and meetings, it's only fitting that she took her hobby online.

She manages her own account and takes time to respond to comments.

In August, a commenter accused her of doctoring a photo of her granddaughter, Almira Tunggadewi, at a parade in front of the National Monument (Monas) in Jakarta.

The commenter suspected that the rough edges around Almira's hair were signs that the photo had been touched up with Adobe PhotoShop.

Ani replied in a series of angry comments, which she later deleted and replaced with a (slightly) more diplomatic response:

"These are my own photos, posted on my own [Instagram]. Then why are people making a fuss? Fantastic."

She continued to hate on haters in October, when a commenter objected to a photo of the first family wearing traditional Javanese batik on a beach in her husband's Pacitan district hometown.

Picture 7 The First Family wearing Javanese Batik on the beach. (Photo via Instagram)

A follower found it profoundly un-Indonesian to wear formal batik wear on a beach, a location that would usually call for casual attire.

Ani replied: "... Your comment is so stupid. Why did you not think that perhaps we were on an official engagement and had just taken a brief moment to enjoy the beach?"

The comment has since been deleted.

In November, Ani struck again, when a commenter pointed out that her youngest son Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono (Ibas) was not usually seen wearing shot-sleeved shirts, alluding to rumors that the sleeves covered up tattoos or perhaps something more sinister.

Picture 8 Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono with his wife and son. Edhie is rarely seen wearing short sleeves, which has sparked speculation among some Instagram commenters that he may have been covering his skin for a reason. (Photo via Instagram)

A back-and-forth ensued, which with her daughter-in-law Aliya Rajasa responding: "Hei you … go to the sea."

"What needs to be discussed is your comment that hurts my heart," Aliya wrote. "Weren't you taught in school to speak politely and to not hurt people's feelings? If you want to speak honest, please do, but there are rules."

First Lady Ani chimed in: "May God grant strength, patience, harmony to this little family."

3. Slow and steady irks the Twittersphere

BVVHRtACMAA2uZI.jpg_large Agus Yudhoyono, the president's oldest son, sparked ire online when he tweeted a photo of himself in a race in which he began running long after the other runners, most of whom had to wake up at the crack of dawn. (Photo via Twitter)

Agus Yudhoyono, the first son of President SBY, caused a ruckus on a Sunday morning in September when he tweeted "We did it … finished 10k in Monas & 17k in BSD," accompanied by a photo of himself and other runners.

He later posted another photo of himself posing with other runners, all holding medals, with the caption: "Always finished what you have started. Greetings."

The photos seemed unproblematic at first, until another user wrote: "This is out of control. The race started at 5:30 in the morning. Agus Yudhoyono and the security forces arrived at 9:15."

Social media users flared up, accusing Agus of disrespecting the rest of the runners who woke up early to participate.

"… I apologize if my good intentions caused the organizer any trouble," he tweeted.

He came late to the second run because he was competing the first, he said.

4. Benny Handoko: Defamation or free speech?

Screen-shot-2013-05-24-at-3.07.21-PM A screenshot taken from blogger Benny Handoko's twitter profile, @benhan. (Twitter)

Blogger Benny Handoko was briefly imprisoned for defamation after he pushed the boundaries of free speech in Indonesia when he tweeted that Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) lawmaker Muhammad Misbakhun was a robber who stole money from Bank Century, the now-defunct bank at the center of a 2008 government bailout scandal.

Misbakhun was sentenced in 2010 to serve two years in prison for forging documents to obtain loans from Bank Century, now renamed Bank Mutiara. He resigned from the PKS after being named a suspect in the case, and subsequently lost his seat at the House of Representatives. But in July 2012, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction, giving him legal grounds to claim that @benhan's tweets were libelous.

Benny argued Indonesia could never build enough prisons to hold everyone who expressed such views online. The Internet rallied behind him.

5. What is Farhat Abbas thinking?

Some people would probably be better off if they stayed off of Twitter.

Lawyer Farhat Abbas (@FarhatAbbasLaw) said earlier this year that he wanted to run for the presidency in 2014. He began his campaign, which quickly became outrageous, on Twitter.

IMAL2486_preview A Farhat Abbas presidential campaign billboard in South Tangerang, photographed on January 13, 2013. (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal)

No political party would have him and the Constitutional Court denied his application for independent candidate status.

In January, police named him a suspect under a law that forbids the dissemination of racist hate speech for a tweet he posted about Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.

Picture-210 A screenshot taken from the twitter account of lawyer and politician Farhat Abbas, @farhatabbaslaw. (Twitter)

He tweeted: “Ahok is protesting here and there that the B 2 DKI number plate was sold to someone by a police officer. That is Ahok, making an issue over a mere plate number. Whatever his plate number, [he] remains C***!”

By "C***" he meant Cina, the Indonesian word for Chinese — a racial slur in some contexts.

Later, he tweeted:

"I don’t think calling someone Chinese is an insult. How great it is to be Chinese! Anyone calling them Chinese is named a suspect."

"I voted for Ahok because he’s Chinese! I think the Chinese are part of Indonesia! How come they are charging me for saying Ahok is Chinese? China, oh China! Please forgive me!”

In August, Farhat tweeted that Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo was not as clean as he appeared. Farhat asked Joko to give a sumpah pocong (oath of innocence, wrapped in a white shroud).

Joko never acknowledged the request.

Farhat also attacked rock star Ahmad Dhani and his son Abdul Qadir Jaelani, 13, who allegedly caused a deadly toll road car crash that left seven people dead.

dul-1024x7281 A Mitsubishi Lancer driven by the youngest son of rock star Ahmad Dhani was involved in a crash that killed seven on Sept. 8, 2013. (JG Photo/Muhammad Habibie)

Abdul's older brothers; Ahmad Al Ghazali, 16, and El Jalaludin Rumi, 15, defended their family and challenged Farhat to a boxing match. The plan caught the eye of the news media and was publicized widely, to the point an entertainment program on Trans TV broadcasted a segment in which Ahmad and Farhat appeared together with Farhat wearing a boxing glove on his right hand.

In August, Farhat posted a series of tweets calling Metro TV senior anchor Mata Najwa "stupid."

"The way Najwa asks questions in Mata Najwa is a stupid method of questioning. If I were Najwa I could ask even more stupid questions," he tweeted, attempting to soften his disses with self-deprecation, which he quickly abandoned.

"I concluded the way Najwa talks carelessly is a sign that Najwa is a stupid woman whose work fools people and herself."

He said that Najwa could do better for herself is she followed in the footsteps of her father, a prominent figure in the Islamic community.

In October, Farhat lost a local election in Southeast Sulawesi's Kolaka district, with only 3.5 percent of the vote.

"I did not lose, Kolaka is the one who lost!" he tweeted.

He is running currently for a Democratic Party legislative seat in a region that includes Central Jakarta, South Jakarta and Indonesians overseas.

6. 'You die, Subur!'

Guru to the stars Eyang Subur (Grandfather Subur) — accused of having eight wives, some underage — became the center of media controversy in April when former child actor Adi Bing Slamet confessed to having been a disciple of the guru and accused his former mentor of blasphemy.

Subur allegedly professed to see the future and had his followers take part in non-Islamic rituals.

Blasphemy is illegal in Indonesia, and the government only recognizes six religions.

Adi reported Subur to the Police and to the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who demanded that Subur repent.

Another of Subur's former disciples, Arya Wiguna, also spoke out as a "victim," in a frenzied outburst that gleeful YouTube users instantly began setting to music and remixing.

"Subur! Look at my face! I'm not afraid!" he shouted, pounding his fists. "For God's sake, you die, Subur!"

7. Infamously indecipherable Vicky Prasetyo

This businessman, failed politician and corruption convict rose from relative obscurity to Internet celebrity after a segment from RCTI’s “Cek and Ricek” info-tainment show was posted on YouTube in September.

It’s not the subject of the interview that captivated Indonesian netizens — although the man’s doomed engagement to a small-time Dangdut star known for her duck-like dance moves was weird enough — but Vicky’s unconventional take on language, the Jakarta Globe's Erwida Maulia & Jonathan Vit wrote.

Vicky enjoys a freestyle approach to the spoken word, employing a nonsensical string of words and things that sound like words to create sentences that are as pompous as they are unintelligible. He gives English "status," for instance, an Indonesian flair — statusisasi — despite the fact that status in Indonesian is, well, status.

8. Harlem Shake shakes Indonesia

"Gangnam Style" was so last year. This year, "Harlem Shake" happened, spreading from the US to pretty much everywhere. The videos show someone dancing alone until a crowd suddenly join in after the bass drops and the cue words come in: "Now do the Harlem Shake."

Amateur choreographers around the world tried to out-weird each other.

The first Indonesian Harlem Shake video was created in a high school classroom.

A number of advertising agencies, magazines, and news services took advantage of the viral craze.

9. '70's porn star' debacle

textor-620x349Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was urged to distance himself in November from a Liberal party adviser who described the Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa as resembling “a 1970s Filipino porn star.”

Campaign strategist Mark Textor made the derogatory comment on Twitter as ties between the two countries plunged to their lowest point in years after a series of spying allegations.

“Apology demanded from Australia by a bloke who looks like a 1970′s Pilipino [sic] porn star and has ethics to match,” said the tweet, which has since been deleted.

Aside from blatant racism, Textor's tweet betrayed his obvious familiarity with old school pornography from the Philippines.

10. 'Jilbab Hitam' taints citizen journalism 

A screenshot taken from the twitter account of anonymous @JilbabHitam. A screenshot taken from the twitter account of anonymous @JilbabHitam.

In November, the Internet was abuzz with reactions to Jilbab Hitam (Black Hijab), an anonymous news source claiming to be a journalist at Tempo magazine — a well-regarded Indonesian news source with a clean image — who "revealed" in an article posted to Kompas-powered citizen journalism site that Tempo had been making backhanded business deals and peddling its coverage.

Tempo denied the allegations as rumors swirled, until journalist Ulin Niam Yusron exposed one of the people behind the anonymous account: a disgruntled former online news portal employee.

The incident served as a dark lesson on the dangers on anonymity and the unreliability of unvetted information.

11. The year of the selfie

The Oxford English Dictionary named it the word of the year. Once (and still) a pastime for teenage over-sharers, the selfie has taken on new connotations as world leaders began taking up the practice.

Bb2fJlxIEAAw82g.jpg-large (Photo via Twitter)

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak tweeted a selfie of himself and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, with Indonesian First Lady Ani Yudhoyono photobombing.

Ani posted on Instagram a photo of her granddaughter Aira taking a group selfie with her grandparents.

rs_560x415-130923105530-1024.Rihanna-Loris-Thailand (Photo via @Badgirlriri/Instagram)

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia: pop star Rihanna took a selfie in Thailand that lead to the arrest of two men on "suspicion of possessing a loris."

Jupe actually likes Twitter the best

jupe_baby-1 A photo taken from Julia Perez’s Instagram. The caption reads ‘Time to eat a babyyyy.’ (Instagram)

Dangdut entrepreneur Jupe continued her reign as personality-in-chief on Twitter and Instagram.

“My followers like my Twitter because I tweet whatever I want,” she told the Jakarta Globe's Ethan Harfenist. “There’s no border… I just think and then I tweet. Like 70 percent [of the time] I get in trouble. Because you know ‘Hey Muslim women aren’t supposed to do that.'"

“Interview paparazi american thanks guys,” she tweeted after meeting with the Jakarta Globe at Jakarta Fashion Week. “Hope my Engels is good….”

13. 'How to Act Indonesian'

YouTube video blogger Sacha Stevenson caused a modest stir with her new series, “How to Act Indonesian,” a satire that glides gracefully on thin ice.

In her videos, the 31-year-old Canadian — an Indonesia resident since 2001 — flits easily between the caricaturish Indonesian characters she uses to act out odd, troubling, amusing and endearing moments in local life.

To keep up with the times, read Follow Friday, a series of profiles on the people who make up Indonesia’s ever-growing social media universe.

Follow Abdul Qowi Bastian and Benjamin Soloway on Twitter: @aqbastian | @bsoloway

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