The Jakarta Post
With the aim of improving his popularity President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched his official Twitter account last month. Other politicians have started using similar media in the hope of increasing their support in the 2014 elections. The Jakarta Post's Hans David Tampubolon reports on the role of social media among today's political aspirants.
The 2014 general elections are only one year away ' and after political survey institutions emerged as opinion drivers, online social media has now become a potential new battleground to win over voters.
As of 2012, there were 43.6 million Facebook users and 19.5 million Twitter users in Indonesia, based on data from state-owned telecommunications company PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia (Telkom). Meanwhile social media consulting company salingsilang.com has predicted that by election year in 2014, there will be at least 100 million social media users in the country.
Social media in Indonesia has also proven to be effective in triggering public movements.
In 2009, a social movement called 'Coins For Prita' emerged on Facebook. The movement aimed to raise at least Rp 204 million (US$ 21,000) to help Prita Mulyasari, a housewife, to pay fines imposed by the Banten High Court for defaming Omni Hospital, after her private complaints became public.
Her supporters declared the punishment imposed on Prita was unfair as she had merely practiced her rights as a consumer to complain. Thousands of people, from various backgrounds, from around the archipelago donated coins ' finally resulting in more than Rp 600 million being raised for Prita.
Another example occurred on World AIDS Day in 2011. During that day, Fajar Jasmin, who is HIV positive, complained on his Twitter account that Don Bosco elementary school in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta, had cancelled his daughter's enrollment due to his medical condition.
After the tweet, the public went into overdrive against Don Bosco and demanded explanations. A day later, the school issued a public apology and agreed to enroll Fajar's daughter. The disappointment
of the original cancellation apparently still hurt Fajar and he decided not to enroll his daughter even after the apology.
Knowing the power of social media in spurring the public, political parties and public figures alike have begun to take the new trend more seriously.
Some politicians, such as Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie and Greater Indonesian Movement Party (Gerindra) chief patron Prabowo Subianto, took an early lead by jumping on the bandwagon in 2009, while some, like President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, only joined recently.
All major political parties at the House of Representatives have also established their respective official social media accounts on both Facebook and Twitter, where they mostly provide updates on their stances on certain political issues and their future agendas.
Yet, despite the vast growth in social media use by parties and politicians, most have not utilized the platforms effectively, according to salingsilang.com founder and social media expert Enda Nasution.
'Most politicians and parties treat their social media accounts as just another conventional media outlet. They treat their accounts merely as advertising channels for campaign purposes,' Enda told The Jakarta Post during a recent interview.
'The term 'social media' clearly suggests how to use the new media effectively, by being 'social' and this means that account owners must be willing to interact with their followers, not simply advertising their campaigns,' he added.
By effectively interacting through social media, politicians should be able to use their online presence as a strong platform to promote their work and agenda in the real world, Enda said.
What Enda highlighted might be evident in the way the President uses his official Twitter account. He has rarely interacted with his followers, who number more than 1.5 million, since he signed up in April.
Aburizal Bakrie and Prabowo also show a lack of interaction with their followers. While they often reply and retweet most of the positive tweets from their followers, they often recoil from answering sensitive issues regarding their track records.
Aburizal tends to dodge any question regarding the mudflow disaster in East Java, associated with a company previously under his control, Lapindo Brantas.
Meanwhile Prabowo, a former general aspiring to run for president in 2014, has never clearly explained his position and role between 1997 and 1998, during which a series of abductions of activists was conducted by the military.
Budiman Sudjatmiko, a politician from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said that when politicians decide to engage in social media, they should be prepared to answer all questions regarding their track records.
'Social media provides a way for politicians to directly interact with the public [...] This has huge potential to raise one's political image or to destroy it. Therefore, politicians must be able to wisely use this platform and if they are not prepared for this, then they should not meddle in it,' Budiman said.
The use of social media to raise or destroy the image of politicians has been shown in recent regional elections. The Indonesian twitterverse was filled with opinions and heated debates during the Jakarta and West Java gubernatorial elections. This shows how social media, as a political platform, has developed into an industry of its own.
Charta Politika political consultancy firm founder, Yunarto Wijaya, said that the development of social media as an element in the political advertising industry had been rapid and there was a lot of money to be made in it.
'Political consultancy firms now have their own social media divisions. They can charge between Rp 2 billion and Rp 3 billion for a social media campaign to support a regional head candidate,' Yunarto said.
Although he said these fees were too high, 'politicians are willing to spend that much money because social media as a campaigning tool is so new and most of them do not really understand how to make proper use of it.'
The costs would surely increase ahead of 2014, he added, thus politicians should grasp a much better understanding of how to use the new media.
'Social media is basically a free platform. If a politician understands how to use it properly, he or she might not have to spend a cent to use it as an effective campaign tool,' Yunarto said.
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