Activists and observers have slammed President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who ordered local government heads to engage with the public through social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, to deal with communal conflicts.
Yudhoyono told governors, regents, mayors, heads of local police and local military commanders that they should all have a social media presence.
“We are in the age of social media. Therefore, you should also be there. Do not allow inaccurate information — which can incite — to circulate. Be there [online] to ensure information is correct. Educate them [the public] to not only speak the truth but to refrain from causing chaos,” he said.
Activists criticized Yudhoyono’s statement, saying that it indicated the government’s reluctance to approach the true cause of the problems.
“Social conflicts continue to occur because the government never deals the root of the problems,” Zainal Abidin, activist with the Institute for Research and Advocacy ( Elsam ), said on Saturday.
Zainal said that government officials needed to delve deeper into the social conflicts in the country.
He expressed concern that resorting to social media could be counterproductive to the addressing of communal conflicts. Moreover, government officials would be burdened with the additional work of monitoring the various social media outlets.
If local leaders, police chiefs and military commanders take Yudho-yono’s order seriously, they would have to monitor 40.6 million Facebook users and 29.4 million Twitter users. There are also around 3 million active bloggers throughout the country.
“This is going to be a waste of their time. They should focus on their actual duties,” said media observer from the Institute for Press Development and Studies ( LSPP ), Ignatius Haryanto.
Ignatius said that the government needed to deliver swift punishment upon the instigators of social conflict.
Ignatius warned that there was a possibility of government officials abusing the effort to curb freedom of speech in the country.
He also said that the public would not turn to social media to vent their frustrations if the government handled social conflicts efficiently.
Ignatius said that the government had failed to bring closure to a number of violent conflicts.
In fact, the government has actually allowed victims of religious clashes to be handed severe punishment — as in the case of Tajul Muluk, the leader of the Shia community in Sampang, Madura, East Java.
“The government has an obligation to ensure ideas can thrive in the country,” said Zainal.
Social media is a powerful tool that affects change, especially in the hand of the people.
Twitter and Facebook have been effective in the mobilization of support for state institutions such as the Corruption Eradication Commission ( KPK ).
Social media monitoring organization PoliticaWave, which monitored the traffic on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, Internet forums and online news portals during the KPK-police standoff in October, found that the hashtag #SaveKPK potentially reached more than 9.4 million Internet users.
Twitter itself has played a dominant role in setting the terms and tones for the online discussion regarding the KPK-National Police rift.
Yudhoyono, whom many have seen as an image-conscious politician, has repeatedly said that he regularly checked on Twitter and social media to gauge the mood of the public.
Yudhoyono said in his speech to address the KPK-police saga that he finally took action after monitoring social media, where users openly placed the blame for the standoff on his absence. ( riz )