Social Media Makes an Outsized Splash in Indonesia in 2014


JANUARY 02, 2015

Indonesians took to social media to express their views in one of the country's most closely watched presidential elections. (AFP Photo/Leon Neal)

Jakarta. 2014 was arguably the most politically intense year for Indonesia's still-growing democracy, with legislative elections followed by the most divisive and closely contested presidential election in the nation's history.

The entire country seemed engrossed in the political process, electrified by the emergence of Joko Widodo — the governor of Jakarta, by way of Solo, Central Java, where he served as mayor — challenging Suharto-era hopefuls as someone coming from outside the establishment and not afraid to shake things up.

With millions of people glued to their phones, tablets and computers during the months of campaigning, balloting and post-vote tallies with all the drama that entailed, the intensity of the events was fueled in no small part by social media.

Online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Path became a lifeline for Indonesians to get involved in the political process and document every step of the historical events of which they were a part.

The following were some of the highlights of social media moments, both political and non-political, that played out over the past 12 months.

Debates take over Twitter

Previous elections never managed to garner the interest of the nation that the 2014 showdowns between the two presidential tickets did. But with Joko and Jusuf Kalla taking on Prabowo Subianto and Hatta Rajasa, the whole country tuned in, including the nation's youths, who duly tweeted sound bites and posted running commentary on Facebook.and Path. Each of the five debates was live-tweeted, and each time the hashtag #DebatCapres (presidential candidates' debate) topped the list of trending topics on Twitter.

Campaign videos on YouTube

Campaigning in both the legislative and presidential elections in 2014 was nothing like the 2009 affair, with social media truly coming into its own last year.

The wider penetration of the Internet and the increasing number of social media users bred a new level of creativity, with many youngsters creating fun political campaigns on platforms such as YouTube.

Some created and uploaded videos in support of their preferred candidate, while others took a neutral stance and focused instead on raising political awareness and encouraging others to go out and vote.

The videos included one by Canadian Sacha Stevenson, famous for her video blogs poking fun at Indonesians' odd behavior, in which she addressed the Joko-Prabowo showdown through the lens of a football match.

Another popular video was "Prabowo vs Jokowi: Epic Rap Battle of Presidency," in which video bloggers and brothers Andovi and Jovial da Lopez posed as Joko and Prabowo to perform a satirical rap in both English and Indonesian.

Beyond the poll

After the July 9 election, and with quick counts giving Joko a narrow lead, Prabowo gave a fiery interview on BBC, attacking his opponent and the pollsters who had called the election for him.

In the video, which also made it big on YouTube, Prabowo says: "That is a perception that the other side has concocted. It's a complete concoction. I think my rival is a product of PR campaign; completely the other side; he is actually a tool of the oligarch and I don't think that's the correct picture. He is not a man of the people. He claims to be humble but that's just an act. In my opinion that's just an act."

Regardless of what he thought, and his challenge to the official results, Joko's victory stood, and he was duly inaugurated as Indonesia's seventh president — and the only one in the post-Suharto era without any ties to the late dictator — on Oct. 20.

Soon after, he set off on his first trip abroad as head of state, one that would see him rub shoulders with US President Barack Obama and other world leaders as he took in summits of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, in Beijing; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in Naypyidaw, Myanmar; and the G-20, in Brisbane, Australia.

The trips were highly anticipated by those waiting for him to make him make his first big international appearance — as well as those hoping for a misstep with the whole world watching.

So it was with bated breath that Indonesians waited for Joko to speak at the APEC CEO summit in Beijing on Nov. 10.

Joko delivered his presentation in English and got his points across. Some were impressed by his confidence and his unadorned style of speech, while others chose to focus on his shaky English and his heavy Javanese accent. Regardless, Joko's speech was one of the highlights of the events, and a video of it uploaded onto YouTube by the APEC secretariat was viewed more than 720,000 times. Obama's speech to the same audience was viewed fewer than 38,000 times.

Shame on SBY

Even before Joko became president, in the dying days of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration, Indonesia managed to seize the social media limelight for the wrong reasons.

With a key bill up for a vote at the House of Representatives, whose passage would scrap direct elections for regional heads — the same kind of election that saw Joko the furniture businessman catapult onto the national political stage — Yudhoyono's Democrats opted to walk out, allowing the Prabowo-aligned parties of the Red-White Coalition to easily pass the bill into law.

An editorial by the Jakarta Globe, titled "Shame on SBY and His Non-Democrats" was scathing of the inaction of the president, who was abroad at the time, and his party.

"Taking away the people's right to choose their leaders is a blatant betrayal of public trust and sidelines them from the democratic process altogether, rendering all the progress and costs of the last 10 years futile," the editorial read.

It quickly became one of the most-read and most-commented articles on the Globe's website, and engendered the hashtag #ShameonYouSBY, which topped Twitter's worldwide trending topics list for 48 hours as outraged Indonesians took to the platform to denounce the death of democracy.

Twitter recorded more than 297,000 tweets were posted using the hashtag, before it disappeared. Netizens accused the government of being behind the disappearance of the hashtag. Another hashtag, #ShamedByYou, rose up in its place and went on to top the world trending topics list for 22 hours on the back of more than 180,000 tweets.

Shame on Jokowi

A similar Twitter backlash was directed at the new president after he announced a hike in the price of subsidized fuels on Nov. 18.

Joko had long made it clear during campaigning that one of his first orders of business would be to tackle the ballooning fuel subsidy that was taking money away from things like infrastructure, health care and education spending.

But raising the price of subsidized fuel was always going to be an unpopular move, and social media users let the world know through hashtags such at #ShameonYouJokowi and #SalamGigitJari, or "finger-biting salute" — a twist on Joko's " Salam Dua Jari ," or "Two-fingered salute," that he employed frequently on the campaign trail.

Both hashtags quickly climbed into the top five worldwide trending topics.

However, other Twitter users kicked off their own campaign in support of the government's move, with the hashtag #JokowiHebat, or "Jokowi is awesome," quickly topping the trending list.

Path to perdition

Indonesians have always been early adopters of the latest thing in social media, and the social networking platform Path enjoys a strong following here of more than 30 million as the less-cluttered and private alternative to Facebook.

Except that it isn't all that private, as postgraduate student Florence Sihombing found out the hard way.

Florence, studying at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, went on a rant on Path after being told by a gas station attendant that she couldn't wait in line on her motorbike for a pump designated for cars.

"Yogyakarta is poor, stupid and uncultured. Friends in Jakarta and Bandung, please don't come to Jogja," she wrote on Path.

One of her contacts on the platform took a screen-shot of the status and it quickly went public. A local group then reported Florence to the police for defamation, and she was promptly arrested and forced to make a public apology.

She has since been released on bail but her defamation trial is pending.

Another Path user, Dinda in Jakarta, also became the object of public outrage and scorn after she posted a status update complaining about pregnant women on board trains being "spoiled" and asking other commuters to give up their seats for them.

Again, the post went public and generated a lot of angry responses. There were also more than a few humorous takes on the whole fiasco, including a meme featuring a group of transgender people on board a train and the caption, "Dinda! Take this train! There are no pregnant women here."

Dinda got off easier than Florence after issuing an apology. No one thought to report her to the police for defaming pregnant women.

Cyber bullying

Both of those cases illustrated to some degree that phenomenon of cyber bullying among Indonesia's increasingly Internet-savvy population.

But leave it to Indonesians, or Jakartans, more precisely, to take the practice to a whole new level and cyber bully a city — in this case, the satellite city of Bekasi, located in the province of West Java.

It's still unclear how the whole campaign began, but suddenly Twitter, Facebook and Path were flooded with jokes ridiculing Bekasi, in particular how far away it was (on the eastern outskirts of Jakarta, but up to three hours' drive away from the city center, thanks to the horrendous traffic).

Some of the taunts were in the form of posts featuring a world map and the caption, "Bekasi map sold separately," as well as advisories that anyone planning to visit Bekasi needed to bring their passport.

What started out as fun and games soon got a little less fun when Bekasi Mayor Rahmat Effendi took offense at the jokes and berated his staff, claiming that their incompetence had made the city a target of cyber bullying. Rahmat ordered his staff to work harder to address the city's problems.

What's up with Rangga?

But it wasn't all negativity on the Internet in 2014.

There was also the return of the much-loved "Ada Apa Dengan Cinta?" ("What's Up With Cinta?"), the teen romance from 2002 that launched the film careers of heartthrob Nicolas Saputra and Dian Sastrowardojo, in the form of a sequel of sorts.

The original movie ended with the young lovers parting at the airport, with Nicolas's character, Rangga, going away with his father to the United States.

The popular mobile messaging app LINE built on the unrequited curiosity about what happened to the characters since then, releasing a 10-minute clip in November that showed Rangga, now a New York-based photographer, trying to reconnect with Dian's Cinta during a work trip to Jakarta with the help of LINE's "alumni" feature, which allowed him to find friends from his old school.

After 12 years of not hearing from him, Cinta was reluctant; but much like in the 2002 film, she ended up making a last-minute decision to catch Rangga at the airport as he was about to board a plane back to New York.

The emotional reunion became the start of a new relationship between the two, and as the video ends with them exchanging messages, stickers and pictures through the app.

Shortly after the video, "Ada Apa Dengan Cinta — 2014," was uploaded to YouTube on Nov.6, social media platforms in Indonesia exploded with responses to the clip. Time lines on Facebook, Path and Twitter were bombarded with status updates, memes and parodies of short drama. The video managed to get more than five million views in less than two months.

Trio Macan no more

From the romantic to the allegedly criminal, social media was fixated on the police hunt for the people behind the popular, though controversial, Twitter handle @TrioMacan2000, which had more than 200,000 followers.

Koes Haryono, Edi Saputra and Raden Nuh were arrested in November on suspicion of being the administrators of the account that for years had regularly tweeted about corruption cases, leveling all kinds of outrageous allegations.

Police, though, contend that they were shaking down senior government officials for bribes, threatening to name them in some graft scandal unless they coughed up hush money.

One such official who went to the police to claim extortion by the group was Marwan Effendy, a senior prosecutor with the Attorney General's Office, who said TrioMacan2000 had falsely accused him to embezzling Rp 500 billion ($40.2 million) from a suspect in a case he once handled.

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama also said he was once a target of extortion by the same group.

Indonesian Twitter users who had long complained about the damage caused by the group's unfounded claims took to social media to laugh at the men after it was reported that they had gotten into a fight with each other in jail — apparently for dropping dime on each other.