- Social Media and the 2019 Indonesian Elections:Hoax Takes the Centre Stage
On 17 April 2019, elections were held across Indonesia, the third-largest democracy in the world. The 2019 elections were significant as the first-ever simultaneous presidential and legislative elections in the nation's history, all held within the same day. The complexity of the 2019 elections meant that effective communication strategies were more vital than ever in reaching out to electoral constituents. Social media, which has become an integral part of everyday social and economic life in the nation, is a natural channel to publicize political visions and missions and to galvanize support for parties and candidates.
As a digital commons, however, social media is inevitably weaponized as well. Concerns over the "dark side" of social media in the form of disinformation (popularly called "hoax", referring to the general phenomenon of falsehoods) received outsized attention throughout the campaigning period of the 2019 elections. The low barrier to entry and ease of sharing user-generated content means that social media is more easily used for all kinds of purposes, including negative ones. Aksi Bela Islam 212 (the 2 December 2016 Defend Islam Action), combined with intense political mudslinging in past elections, resulted in "hoax" becoming a term that means division to many Indonesians, potentially tearing apart the young democracy.
This chapter examines how social media interplayed with electoral politics in Indonesia's 2019 elections. The first part of the paper outlines the role of social media in the nation's past elections. Social media has been weaponized for use [End Page 155] in political smear campaigns since its introduction on to the nation's political landscape in 2012. Aksi Bela Islam 212 gave rise to fears that hoaxes could further split the nation and affect subsequent elections. Combined with worldwide events such as the 2016 US presidential election, it changed Indonesia's understanding of the so-called "fake news" phenomenon. The second part of the paper discusses how the notion of hoax was central to campaign discourses in the 2019 elections. Social media was the dominant means, although not the only one, by which hoaxes were disseminated.
Social Media and Political Contestation in Past Indonesian Elections
Indonesia is nicknamed the "Social Media Nation". In terms of numbers, active social media users comprise 48 per cent of the country's total population.1 Indonesian netizens on average spend three hours and twenty-six minutes on social media.2 The average number of social media accounts per Internet user is 11.2.3 The video-sharing site YouTube is the most active social media platform (88 per cent) in Indonesia, followed by instant messaging app WhatsApp (83 per cent).4 Social networking platform Facebook (81 per cent), photo-sharing site Instagram (80 per cent) and microblogging platform Twitter (52 per cent) are also widely used.5 The majority of these apps are accessed via mobile devices.
While political campaigns have long utilized traditional media such as television and radio,6 social media is a relative newcomer in Indonesian elections. Social media was first incorporated into Indonesia's electoral politics during the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial elections.7 During this early expansion of social media usage in elections, optimism regarding its potential for enhancing political participation and civic engagement prevailed. Twitter hashtags (for example #ReplaceTitleSongWithJOKOWI) and YouTube music videos in support of candidates were first shared during this time.8 Experiments in election result prediction using social media analytics were also first conducted during the 2012 elections, some of which triumphed over opinion polls.9
The increasing ubiquity of social media during this time, however, made traditional political mudslinging more apparent than ever. The term "black campaigns"—campaigns that seek to undermine the image of electoral candidates through rumours, half-truths or completely fabricated information—was coined then. Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and running-mate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), in seeking election, found themselves the target of smear campaigns that sought [End Page 156] to paint them as communists, foreigners, proselytizers and so on. Much of these smears were spread via Blackberry Messenger.10
In the 2014 presidential elections, in which current president Joko Widodo and former army general...