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Petitioning: The Facebook group "Save KPK, Save Indonesia" has been flooded with activity, partially due to the widespread use of social media in the country.Senior rocker Mick Jagger once famously sang about how he heard the sound of marching and charging feet everywhere, as violent anti-establishment riots rocked American and European soil and pitted students and young people against the authorities in the wake of the Vietnam War.
But that was in the summer of 1968, when the time was right for rising in the streets — or so Sir Mick sang.
Now it’s 2012, and where the people are protesting they don’t need roads. Nowadays, protesters can take it to the Internet — which some cite as a more efficient medium for protest, as a cause can spread much wider and much faster on the global computer network.
Early local examples of how the Internet can be a powerful tool to spread a cause include the online petition to free whistleblower Prita Mulyasari and the online campaign to challenge the prosecution of former Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) members Bibit Samad Rianto and Chandra Hamzah, who were accused of accepting bribes.
Another prominent case in point is the online campaign to support Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to call off the development of six new inner-city toll roads for fear that the plan will only exacerbate Jakarta’s already headache-inducing traffic.
Jokowi himself has apparently taken a similar stance as the petitioners. He has reaffirmed time and time again that he prefers establishing a massive and integrated public transit system in Jakarta over developing more roads, which he says will only make way for more cars and, inevitably, more traffic woes.
The new governor has proven that he is quite literate when it comes to the latest tech and gadgets — the much-beloved leader has a Twitter account and has admitted to carrying around a tablet to follow the latest news.
Street view: Demonstrators walk the streets in front of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in Kuningan, Jakarta, on Oct. 8 in support of the KPK and their fight against graft.
Even if there is no proof that the online campaign factored into Jokowi’s decision, it is still nice to think that he might have read about it and supported the cause.
The massive campaign to urge President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to support the KPK in its investigation of the multibillion rupiah driving simulator graft case at the National Police’s Traffic Corps also went widespread on the Internet.
The campaign was conducted through various social media websites, including Facebook (through a number of “Save KPK, Save Indonesia” pages), Twitter (through the hashtag #SaveKPK) and online campaign website change.org, in which a petition was filed by former president Abdurrahman Wahid’s daughter, Anita Wahid.
PoliticaWave, which monitored the traffic on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, Internet forums and online news portals during the KPK-police standoff, found that the hashtag #SaveKPK potentially reached more than 9.4 million Internet users.
“These phenomena indicate the rise of the voice of the nation’s youth, amplified by the ease of access to various digital public spaces,” said prominent human rights activist Usman Hamid, who also serves as campaigns director at change.org in Indonesia.
“These people staunchly believe in the spirit of change. They are convinced that change can still come, no matter how big a problem they are facing, even if it is political corruption. They believe in people power,” he said.
According to Usman, this new sense of confidence and faith in the power of online social protests was also fueled by the success stories of Internet activism during the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movements.
“In Tunisia, after then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali blocked [video sharing websites] YouTube and Dailymotion, the nation’s youth united through Facebook. After Facebook was blocked, further protests led to his downfall,” he said. “The Internet itself might not have directly led to [Ben Ali’s] downfall, but it did provide Tunisians with a spirit of people power.”
While Usman agrees that online protests are more efficient than the real world counterparts in terms of the speed and scope a cause can spread, he does say that the effectiveness of an online campaign is another matter entirely.
“It depends on how specific the goal or demand is, how interesting the narrative story is in painting a sense of urgency to solve the crisis, and the presence of opportunity,” he said. “In painting a picture of crisis, we need to give people a sense of hope that things can be better. Only then can they be moved to act.”
Arief Aziz, communications director at change.org in Indonesia, however, said that the question is not about which is more efficient and effective between protests in the real world and on the Internet.
For him, the question is more about how protesters can combine both to further their causes.
“Social media has a high viral power. You can obtain thousands of signatures for an online petition in a matter of days. Real world protests, on the other hand, give a face to the movement,” he said. “A street protest will provide a more lasting personal impact on society. The feeling you get upon reading a tweet from Anita Wahid is surely different from hearing her speak on the street.”
The mushrooming of online protests in Indonesia is certainly boosted by the country’s status as one of the highest social media website users in the world.
Socialbakers, a Czech-based company that provides social media network statistics and analysis, states on its website that 50.49 million Indonesians (roughly 21 percent of the nation’s population) have Facebook accounts.
Indonesia is ranked fourth after the United States (167.55 million), Brazil (60.67 million) and India (60.55 million).
A survey released in July this year by Paris-based research company Semiocast has shown that Indonesia is the fifth most active nation on Twitter, with Jakarta emerging as the most active Twitter city in the world, beating major cities like Tokyo, London and New York.
The survey found that 29.4 million Twitter account profiles originated from Indonesia by early June this year, a 50 percent rise compared to the numbers in 2011.
Usman said that more than 85,000 Indonesians had joined change.org since the launch of the website’s Indonesian page on June 4 this year.
Arief said more than 13,000 had joined in the last month alone. “There are currently some 150 Indonesian petitions at change.org,” he said.
Both agree that Internet penetration might still pose a problem in regions outside metropolises in Indonesia, but they are certain that online social protests will have a bright future in the country.
“I do hope that these virtual protest movements become more than just ‘click activism’. I really hope that it can arouse the emotions of the public and push massive social changes,” Usman said.
“I hope that more and more people will realize the possibilities of digital public spaces in controlling the political and economic systems of the real world, including in creating healthy political competition ahead of the 2014 elections,” Arief said.
“I believe that it will be a historic moment of generational change, when the apathetic non-voters will finally become an active force to be reckoned with, thanks to the availability of virtual political public spaces,” he added.
— Photos By JP/Wendra Ajistyatama