I voted on July 11, albeit reluctantly. It was not a lack of interest for the elections; it was the inundation of various yet analogous slogans and incessant messages that actually quashed my enthusiasm to vote. While it may be a peculiar anti social outlook towards the hip social media of instant and frequent interactivity that turned my gusto towards the election off, but the important question is: did social media frenzy invigorate the elections and prove to be a game changer for any of the candidates?
In the recent few years we have seen a surge of Indonesian politicians, many inspired by Obama’s victory in 2008, using social media to campaign and put themselves out there. The Web 2.0, as it is often called, refers roughly to social media on the web where user generated contents and interactive communications is the main idea. Obama’s grassroots campaign utilized blogs, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube among others as his central platform of his presidential campaign.
It is definitely most sensible that every single contender for Jakarta’s top post were eager to load their Web 2.0 guns to blaze their campaign trail, especially considering Indonesia ranks as one of the highest users of social media. There is an estimated forty million Facebook users in Indonesia and a 2010 GlobalWebIndex survey found that eighty percent of internet users in Indonesia uses social media networks, compared to only fifty-five percent in the United States. The social media phenomenon is widespread particularly among Indonesia’s urban elite, meaning Jakarta is a stronghold of its usage.
Has the social media then become a powerful weapon in the hands of the Gubernatorial race participants? We would imagine it to be much more powerful considering the higher concentration of social media users in Indonesia terms of sheer number and percentage of users compared to Obama’s US campaign.
However, it is hard to measure the direct impact of the social media as a tool to galvanize supporters and voters in the midst of an array of other conventional campaign methods. The elections were certainly very visible in the chirpings over Twitter and many other social media. It certainly brought the elections to the forefront of discussions in the past two weeks. But did it create any significant impact that garnered people to vote and catapulted forward any candidate as it did for Obama?
The impact of the web 2.0 seems to not have any earth shattering impact to the elections. It did create some buzz, but mainly among those who regularly chatter about the latest happenings in the capital on social or political issues, not necessarily among those who are apathetic or uninvolved.
The voter turnout for the first round of election of the capital’s 6.9 million eligible voters was only around 64 percent, slightly lower than the 2007 65.26 percent of voter turnout.
The JakartaGlobe (April 2012) noted the rather paltry clout and influence of the official Twitter account of the candidates, none of the accounts managed to obtain followers beyond a few thousand . Jokowi’s personal account (@jokowi_do2) had ~173,000 followers, but his official campaign account @JokowiAhok pales in comparison with only 2,945 (as of July 14). Faisal and Biem (@TimFaisalBiem) considered by many observers as the most social media savvy has only around 3900 followers. Overall, all the candidates’ official Web 2.0 tools be it Twitter, Facebook groups, or any other seem to only have limited reach and audience. It most likely comprises of followers who are mainly already ardent supporters of each candidate in the first place.
There was indeed a surprise when Jokowi-Ahok became front-runners of the first round of elections, as opposed to the projected runner up prediction of Jokowi-Ahok, or even Foke-Nara’s one round victory that many survey institutions predicted from their early polling. Yet, there are no indications that social media tools were instrumental in boosting Jokowi-Ahok to the forefront. The clear strength of Jokowi-Ahok was highlighted from their track record as regents in Solo and Belitung, and conventional media outlets that put into the spotlight many of their accomplishments.
Why was the role of social media quite different in this election compared to Obama’s campaign in 2008?
Social media with its quick interactivity among common citizens and short concise messages was not necessarily the tipping point to get people rallying behind a candidate and his programs. There are significant differences to point out.
Obama had to face both ideological issues and programs that will be a polemic among the electorates in US politics. Obama’s healthcare reform was controversial not only in its practical form, but the ideology behind it: a larger involvement of the state in people’s welfare instead small government. On social issues and values, there are points of contentions that will differentiate Obama starkly from say his Republican opponent. Thus his campaign had a clear zest of what program and ideas entails voting for him. Swing voters and people in the middle will have something to think about in terms of program and ideas beyond his person.
In Indonesian, and particularly Jakarta politics, on surface there are no contentious issues up front. The hot and pertinent social political issues are generic: the fight against corruption and building a clean and effective government. Something Indonesians would say: “nenek ompong juga tau (a toothless granny also knows)”.
On the concrete practical issues, the most pertinent problem is traffic congestion, an issue that again all would agree, to simply get cars moving again on the street. But it does not distinguish any candidate in terms of ideological position and pragmatic methods associated with it as part of a comprehensive framework. It is simply a problem that needs to be solved.
Thus the official campaign substance and programs are basically similar only worded differently. Nothing stands out that differentiates the promised administration form of each candidate.
With no clear contentious issues, there are no substantial factors that differentiate the candidates except for their personalities and backgrounds. Furthermore, we see gimmicks and attributes going to the forefront as distinguishing aspects like the “the moustache”, checkered shirts, koko shirts (traditional clothing), and other attributes.
These are things that when tweeted, shared on Facebook among others would mainly be like spamming advertisements of products. It would not necessarily persuade or sway people that were on the fence or oblivious to that particular candidate.
The fad for light and short statements ala Twitter is very popular among the young. It does not require much time to read, understand and digest. Spreading of information is thus much faster, good to socialize technicalities of the elections: dates, procedures, etc. There are, however, drawbacks coming from this convenient and rapid communication tools.
The requirements for credible and ethical journalism could not be applied and enforced to the social media. Smear campaigns and rumors based on hearsay from anonymous and less than credible sources do spread equally rapidly and frequently. Black campaigns raising sensitive racial and religious issues that should be irrelevant to the official campaign comes to the surface and goes around.
The face-off between Jokowi-Ahok and Foke-Nara for the second round of elections will not be for another two months. It will be interesting to continue to observe what kind of role the social media will evolve into in Jakarta’s social political scene.