Social media tools are only effective if they can engage people off-line
Becak drivers surf the internet on their mobile phones
The proliferation of the internet has made Indonesia one of the largest users of social media. In July 2012, the number of Twitter accounts in Indonesia exceeded 19.5 million, making it the fifth largest user population in the world. There are more than 5.3 million Indonesian blogs currently listed in the Indonesian blogger directory hosted by SalingSilang and Indonesian has become the third largest language used in Wordpress. Indonesians are also the world’s biggest users of the location-based social media site Foursquare and, with 42.5 million subscribers, the country ranks fourth in the world for Facebook users. Of the 55 million Internet users in Indonesia (a figure that is rapidly increasing), 46 million Indonesians – from becak (pedicab) drivers to professionals, from the working class to politicians and ministers, from artists to religious leaders – are now using social media.
These statistics suggest that Indonesia has become a social media nation. However, the extent to which social media has contributed to activism within Indonesia is another question. What matters in activism is not the availability of tools like the Internet or social media, but how civil society organisations and activists use these tools strategically and politically to advance their cause. In many cases, civil society organisations do not deliberately devise strategies for using the Internet and social media. Rather, the use of this online technology is often impulsive and reactive, responding to urgent developments in the field but failing to contribute to real-world change.
Clicking for the cause
Indonesia has hosted some serious online campaigns, not least around the Lapindo drilling disaster of 29 May 2006. Civil society activists and the victims have demanded that the company, owned by the powerful Golkar party chair, take responsibility for the disaster, pay compensation to those affected and recover the area. Protests have been organised locally and in Jakarta. Activists have established Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as a dedicated website (korbanlumpur.info) to seek support from the wider public. The movement has nearly 3000 supporters across at least seven different Facebook pages, including one fan page for korbanlumpur.info.
But the movement has not been able to mobilise significant support and advocacy beyond the online realm. There are many political, social, economic and cultural factors that may explain this, but a key problem has been the activists’ failure to make strategic use of the Internet and social media. For example, the twitter account @korbanlumpur does not regularly tweet. A more strategic approach would have also engaged conventional media like radio, television, and newspapers, allowing the movement to reach an audience beyond those who have access to the internet. Instead, these online campaign tools have failed to mobilise and retain support for the cause.
An example of a more deliberate and thoughtful campaign is #IndonesiaUnite, which shows how social media that responds to real world events can attract a lot of attention. On 16 July 2009, the Ritz Carlton and Marriot hotels in Jakarta were bombed. Daniel Tumiwa, a digital media professional, was the first to tweet the news about the bombings, with others quickly following with pictures and messages encouraging people not to be afraid of terrorism. The tweets, all with the hashtag #IndonesiaUnite, quickly dominated Twitter conversation, creating a space where citizens could support one another and express their hope for a better and safer Indonesia. For three days in a row, the #IndonesiaUnite was a world top ‘trending topic’. Its Facebook fans page attracted more than 400,000 supporters.
Ultimately, however, the effects of all that attention are unclear. #IndonesiaUnite managed to create a space for ‘online patriotism’, but despite the success it achieved in attracting followers, it was unable to generate any change beyond discussion about terrorism. It could have pushed the government to take the bombings more seriously, or generated a kind of ‘terrorism watch’. Instead, the movement just faded away in cyberspace.
Getting it right
Sometimes, however, Indonesian cyber activism does cross over into reality. #IndonesiaTanpaFPI is an example of how the strategic use of social media can be effective. The movement started with a heated debate in Twitter on whether a group like FPI (the Islamic Defenders Front) was needed in Indonesia. It soon evolved into offline discussions in coffee shops in Jakarta that attracted non-Twitter users who shared the same concerns. The outcome was concrete: a commitment to organise a rally in the centre of Jakarta to draw more public attention to the dangers of violent groups like FPI that misrepresented Islam. The date was set for 14 February 2012 and the event was widely publicised via Twitter and Facebook as well as in venues like cafes.
On the day, 200 people came to the rally despite threats from the hardliner groups and police. The movement continued to gather support through an online petition which convinced 2535 individuals and 17 organisations to officially sue the Indonesian police force for failing to prevent violent acts committed in the name of religion. The official case was filed on the 10 May 2012 and the movement is now preparing for a class action. It has been criticised for being too middle class and for side-lining moderate Muslim groups but nevertheless, #IndonesiaTanpaFPI illustrates how activists used social media strategically to transform an online movement into offline action. These strategies made it possible for the wider public to participate, transforming these citizens from being observers and bystanders into agents for change.
There is a big difference ‘liking’ something on Facebook or re-tweeting a post and joining a rally on a stinking hot day
JalinMerapi (merapi.combine.or.id) is another case that illustrates the importance of combining online and offline activism. On the 5 November 2010 at 7:30pm, in the midst of the havoc caused by the eruption of Mt. Merapi, the Yogyakarta based volunteer group, JalinMerapi, received a desperate phone call. The caller requested meals for six thousands refugees who had fled the volcano and taken shelter in the town of Klaten. In despair, Akhmad Nasir tweeted the plea to @JalinMerapi’s 36,000 followers. At 8pm, he received a phone call from Klaten. To his disbelief, he was informed that they had received more than six thousand meals within 30 minutes. The network of @JalinMerapi followers had responded to the humanitarian disaster by forwarding the tweet as an SMS and passing the message on by word of mouth. Upon reading the message, people residing hundreds, or even thousands, of kilometres away from Yogyakarta called their relatives, asking for help to buy and deliver the meals. This success helped make JalinMerapi highly credible in the eyes of the public and the local government, eventually leading to an opportunity for it to contribute to the local disaster mitigation strategy.
There is a big difference between posting a blog entry, forwarding an email, ‘liking’ something on Facebook or re-tweeting a post and joining a rally on a stinking hot day or donating cold, hard cash. Ultimately, effective and successful social media campaigns find ways to combine online activism and offline events, as in the case of #IndonesiaTanpaFPI and @JalinMerapi. When used strategically in this way, the internet and social media can help advance civil society’s efforts to create real-world change.
However, these very same cases remind us too that, while new and ideas can spread very quickly online, off-line change usually develops much more slowly. Indonesian activists have certainly attempted to harness social media. But they need to use the technology strategically to facilitate their work. If they don’t, they’ll find only too quickly that poorly strategised use of social media has little chance of stimulating real world action, and so will only create false hope for change.
Yanuar Nugroho (email@example.com) is a Hallsworth Research Fellow in Political Economy of Innovations and Social Change at the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, Manchester Business School, the University of Manchester, UK. He is also the author of ‘Beyond Click Activism: Social Media and Political Processes in Indonesia’ (FES Germany, 2012).
* Correction: Since publication the information about the number of people who attended the rally organised through #IndonesiaTanpaFPI has been updated to 200 from 1400. This updated figure was provided to the author by #IndonesiaTanpaFPI after this article was first published.