Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Social Media and Resistance in Indonesia


The emergence and development of the world wide web or internet seem had and will continue to revolutionizing the communication sphere. Domingo said that web have its setting in a true “Castellsian” sense: instead of one-way communication flows, from a few central points to countless receivers, where there would be a network of communication flows between equally influential nodes capable of acting both as senders and receivers of information.[1] One important feature of Internet that need to bring up, is that it can ease the civil society to conduct a resistance.

The Internet which came to Indonesia during the early phase of the political crises in the 1990’s, economically and socially had risen to become an alternative media that is no longer under state control, thus bolstering civil society in its resistance to state and even corporate domination.[2] The internet opens up communication and information channels that makes it powerful tool for the marginalized, especially for the one who really know how to use its potential. Thus, it gives the civil society, opportunities to challenge the rigid position of the state. Furthermore the social media furthering the transformation from media monologues, from one sender to many receivers, into social media dialogues, from many senders to many receivers, furthers ease the civil society to exercise resistance.

Purpose (Aim)

The purpose of this research is to illustrate how social media used as a tool of resistance and to see the relations among actors involved, this will include the relationship between the social media user, mainstream media, the diverse actors of state including the oppressor itself. It will also deals with how social media mobilizing support, facilitating discourse, and manufacturing consent among the social media user and general public. I also will try to see the linkage between online and offline relations emerge in those resistance context. To deliver what has mentioned above I will use two case studies involving usage of facebook with Indonesian resistance setting. First is the Facebook group called “one million strong facebookers support to release Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Riyanto” which is basically a resistance against defamation of anti corruption process. Second, also a facebook group called “SOS internet Indonesia” which is a campaign against the Indonesian government plan to impose a censorship regulation on the website content.

The research question for this paper is:

How have social medias contribute to the resistance in Indonesia?

How are the relations among actors involved due to the emergence of social media resistance?

Conceptual framework

Social Media

Despite growing use of social media or social networking site, it lacks of clear definition that can differ it from other web based media. Until recently whereas Kaplan and Haenlein defined social media as a group of internet based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of user generated content.[3] Common example are the popular social networking sites like Friendster, facebook, myspace, etc. Social media also includes youtube, photobucket, Flicker, and other sites aimed at photo and video sharing.


Hollander and Einwohner[4] see that the concept of resistances have various definitions. But they manage to pull key elements from those various definitions. First every definition has the elements of action and opposition; second elements of recognition from various actors; and third is the intent from the subject. By these key elements they manage to define seven typology of resistance in which I will use only one that is relevant to this paper. These definition is overt resistance, is behavior that is visible and readily recognized by both targets and observers as resistance. Furthermore, is intended to be recognized as such resistance.


The method I will used in this research is based on case study and content analysis of the webpage and also related news. By observing the content of the webpage and related news i can gather information needed to answer the research question.

A Brief of Indonesia and Internet

Based on the data from the CIA factbook[5], Indonesia is a nation of about 17,500 islands in South East Asia, and the world’s largest archipelagic state. With a population of more than 237 million, it is the world’s fourth most populous country and the most populous muslim-majority nation. With a democratically elected parliament and president, Indonesia is considered the world’s third largest democracy (after India and the United States). Its capital is Jakarta, and the country shares land borders with Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Malaysia. By sea Indonesia’s neighbours are Singapore, The Phillipines and Australia.

Year 1998, mark Indonesian transition to democracy in which authoritarian President General Soeharto was ousted following the events of Asian financial crisis, international pressure and domestic popular movement. Post 1998, Indonesia exercised new democratic policy such as a multi party system, direct presidential election, decentralization of government and direct local government election, separation of the military from the police, etc. Despite these progress, Indonesian still facing problems such as high poverty, unemployment, corruption, terrorism, etc.

This transition to democracy had open ways for broader democracy, in terms of freedom of press and freedom of expression. Based on the Freedom of Press Index by Reporters Sans Frontiers,[6] Indonesia in 2009 ranked 100 out of 175 countries, in terms of freedom of press, increase from 111 position on 2008. Leaving Malaysia (131), Singapore (133) and thailand (130) behind. With the freest freedom of press and freedom of expression in the region, plus a steady growing economy, the internet users increase more and more. In 2000, there are approx 2 million internet user which is 1 percent of the population, but in 2008, there are approx 25 million internet user reflecting 10,5% of the population.[7]

One of the trending site in the world, including in Indonesia is Facebook. Facebook is a social media that falls under the category of social networking sites which their applications enable users to connect by creating personal information profiles, inviting friends and colleagues to have access to those profiles, and sending e-mails and instant messages between each other. These personal profiles can include any type of information, including photos, video, audio files, and blogs. Facebook as a social networking sites are highly popular, specifically among younger internet user.

As of January 2009, the online social networking application Facebook registered more than 175 million active users world wide.[8] To put things into perspective, this is only less slightly from the population of Brazil (180 Mill) and twice the population of Germany (80 Mill). Moreover Indonesia experienced a high growth in Facebook users, as of 31 December 2009, has the fourth largest active users with 14,681,580 members. It has increased 1546,7% from the last twelve months.[9]

As the most popular social media used by Indonesians, Facebook also became a space for expressing discontentment from the public towards situation in Indonesia. Below, I will present two case of resistance using the facebook group applications. The first, is a facebook group called “One million strong facebookers support to release Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Riyanto” they both are Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) members who were prosecuted by the police criminal investigation unit due to their corruption investigation efforts that involved high profile individuals on the government. That case has been an example how civil society make use of their rights of free and equal use access of internet for the citizens. In contrary, related to the freedom of speech and information, the government wants people on the internet to be controlled in terms of what technology they used and how they used that technology. The aggregate of perceived excessive freedom of speech by the civil society, begets reaction by the government by drafting a regulation to control multimedia content. This in turn resisted by the civil society. One example of social media resistance is a facebook group called “SOS internet Indonesia,” which is an appeal to reject upcoming government initiative to limit or pose censorship towards the internet contents. This in turns form a cyclical process of contestation and resistance among actors.

Social Media against Corruption

To begin with the first case we must comprehend that corruption as a major issues that rooted in the everyday of Indonesians life. Rothstein and Teorell[10] stated that the received view nowadays defines corruption as the “abuse (or misuse) of public office for private gain,” or some close variant along those lines. But the weakness is it depends on the specific country legality of the terms “abuse” and “misuse”. Indonesia itself has a similar narrow definition on the law no 31 of 1999 and law no 22 of 2001, in which only related to bribery related to public officials.[11] The corruption itself has widespread in the everyday life of the people even though they despise it. Furthermore Rothstein argued that in a deeply rooted corrupted society, one way to eradicate a widespread corruption, he argued is from above.[12]

One of the tool to combat corruption from above that is owned by Indonesia is the Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberatasan Korupsi/KPK). According to the KPK data,[13] there were more than 31.000 corruption cases reported between 2004 and 2008. In 2008, there were more than 8000 cases reported. That means there were approximately 660 cases reported every month and 185 cases every week. That also means there were at least 37 cases reported everyday. There were a lot of corruption indications that could be reported to KPK. In almost every department or institution, there was corruption case. If the investigation is set out across the country none of the areas are corruption-free. Furthermore, The International Transparency gave Indonesia a Corruption Perception Index (IPK) of 2.6 in 2008 while Singapore was given 8.0, indicating the more severe condition of corruption.[14]

In the past five years, KPK has prosecuted many corruptors who were coming from every level of office. Fighting corruption cannot be carried out only by prosecuting the suspects. The root of the issue must be identified. The reason for this is that although many of the corruptors have been prosecuted, corruption cases will keep on occurring as long as the root of the issue has not been found. Nevertheles the KPK gave hope, however small on the efforts to eradicate corruption.

However, a series of unfortunate events occurred in 2009 towards the KPK. First, on Mei 2009, the head of the commission was arrested due to alleged murder of Nasrudin Zulkarnaen, later on February 2010 he was found guilty and sentenced for 18 years imprisonment. These has discredited the institution. Furthermore, in 29 October 2009, two high rank of Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission were arrested by the police. But the second case raise many eyebrows due to their context of their arrests. Prior to their arrest they were investigating corruption case of Bank Century bail out, by bugging other government official offices including the police investigation office. This makes the police, namely Susno duadji, head of the investigation unit uneasy because he was indicated to be involve in a corruption case. Susno Duadji also phrase the famous dichotomy “gecko” or KPK versus “Crocodile” or the Police, which later became the symbol of the oppressor against the oppressed. Furthermore, the reason behind their arrest always changed and without strong evidence, officially arrested due to corruption indication. These events gave impression that the police manufacturing or made up a reasons to arrest them. The reason was more political instead of legal matters.

That arrest was so vulgarly unpopular, with public opinion formed that it is part of a grand scheme to criminalize and then dismantle the power of KPK. Thus popular support towards Bibit and Chandra flourished everywhere not to mention in the world wide web. Immediately after the arrest, Usman Yasmin a lecturer in University of Bengkulu, created a group page called “One million strong support to release Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Riyanto” to appeal for their release, and defending a larger cause of anti corruption process. Through that page Usman Yasin post shout out or status criticizing their arrest and support of the KPK. Beside of that member of groups share news from mainstream media such as detik.com, vivanews.com, tempointeraktif.com, about related news or other post to strengthen their cause. The membership rose rapidly also due to mainstream media contribution in popularizing this facebook group towards the public. For instance Detik.com the largest online media in Indonesia, released a news about this group since they only have 164 up to 1137 members on 30th October 2009. The news also citing post on the wall such as, “I am a gecko, I want to unite with fellow gecko against the crocodile.”[15] They also post news on rising tweeps (twitter) in support of Bibit Chandra, asking twitter user to join the facebook group and tweet about the case.[16] In the other hand, the members of the group post and share links of news from mainstream media website, generating hits favored by the media itself. Thus the mainstream media might recognize them as a word to word online marketing. Moreover, the group keep growing, 8 days after the establishments the group reach 923.689 members, as for 16 March 2009 it has 1.393.728 members.[17] Besides the facebook group, the mass media also echoed other actors support towards Bibit Chandra, mainly from opposition parties, academician, legal practitioner, and political observers. With escalating public opinion, immense political pressure, and no evidence of legal breach, the district attorney drop their case and the police were forced to release them one month (30th November) after their arrest.

However, the group did not cease to exist. They furthered their support of KPK’s anti corruption efforts. One fenomenal aspect is the group mobilization to participate in the World’s Anti Corruption Day mass demonstration on 9th December 2009 in Jakarta. Through constant reminder on the status, Usman Yasmin, appeal to the general public to join the rally in the World Anti Corruption Day. In line sentiment also occurred by member groups posting news related to rally preparations. Under the banners of “Facebookers for Justice,” this group members has participated in the rally that gather thousands of mass reiterating against corruption.[18]

Currently the group is still exist and still advocating anti-corruption cause by following the follow up case regarding the corruption case related to Century Bail Out. The facebook group of Bibit Chandra case has been an example how civil society make use of their rights of free and equal use access of internet for the citizens. But the government did not just stand aside. Due to excessive freedom of speech the government feel disturbed by protest and resistance thus wants people on the internet to be controlled in terms of what technology they used and how they used that technology.[19] The aggregate of resistance due to wider freedom of speech by the civil society, begets reaction by the government.

The Government and Social Media Strikes Back and Forth

On 11 January 2010, the Ministry of Communication and Information of the Republic of Indonesia, release a press release expressing concern towards growing internet related crimes occurred in the society.[20] They clearly state their intention to filter the internet content and furthering so by preparing a ministerial regulation draft on multimedia content (RPM Konten Multimedia). Responding this issue, a facebook group called “SOS Internet Indonesia”[21] was established immediately, disseminating links on the draft regulation on multimedia content. Firstly done is to make people aware of the existence and made available of this draft regulation.

Regarding the regulation itself, several critics break out;[22] First it points out that the regulation aims to content provider. This will make content provider responsible to any post inside their web, which is very unlikely occurred due to the character of the web itself. Furthermore, critics also points out government plans to set up a special body responsible to assess whether or not a content infringe a law or not. This is regarded as an authoritarian gesture aiming to limit the freedom of expression and access of information.

Mainstream media also share the same risk and clearly try to increase the awareness of the public of the coming danger. They do so by publishing news of criticism, including the existence of the “SOS internet Indonesia” facebook group page. This group got mainstream media attention, namely detik.com, since its early stage of 1.185 members in their second day.[23] The news reiterates sentiment from the group’s wall that this regulation is a step to curb democracy and return of the old authoritarian days. “Reject the Communication Minister draft regulation on Multimedia Content because it is dangerous for Indonesia’s Internet condition and will return to the repressive and total control paradigm of the Soeharto regime” cited the news from the group’s wall.[24] Even the largest and most influential newspaper in Indonesia, Kompas, put the online movement as their headlines; “Protest erupts in virtual world” the headlines said on their 17th February edition.[25] The news reports about how the planned regulation reaped critics from tweeter user, and also the emergence of the facebook group called “SOS Internet Indonesia” and “Tolak RPM Konten Multimedia” which rapid popularity likened to the Bibit Chandra facebook group pages. It also emphasizes that the regulation might infringe the freedom of press harming the young democracy of Indonesia.

Beside journalist, other content provider such as Kaskus.us, the largest Indonesian web community join hand in hand to ridicule and scrutinize the regulation. Intertwined members of both kaskus and facebook, share, tweet, and post information, news, comments and critics in both website, creating a bigger awareness of the issue.

Other activities can be observed in this facebook group is the consolidation of media workers to fight the regulation. Members of the group upload and update information on offline struggle conducted by the media workers. For instance the group update the process, photo, and news on a joint press statement from the coalition between Independent Asocciation of Journalist (AJI), Vivanews, Kompas Group, Pers Legal Aid, Politikana and other journalism elements.[26]

Aggregate pressure from below, finally reach President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Accommodating public opinion on this issues, on 18th February, the president openly criticize the Minister of Communication and Information, Tifatul Sembiring, for he had not report of any regulation plan, and had stirred confusion towards the public. The President also expressed his concerns on this issue that had generates public opinion that the government planned to limit the freedom of press, political freedom, etc.[27] Prior to these critics the minister lay low and back down, stating that the regulation was a heritage from previous administration. But currently he is still expressing the needs to have a internet regulation, publicly stating that freedom in Indonesia is growing excessive. He even went to Malaysia on 12th march, a less democratic if not authoritarian country, to study the Internet content regulation.[28] Indicating future harsh censorship regulation and curbing freedom of speech. Thus the fight remains.


First, we can see that the support for both case via the facebook group became larger because the issue is closed with the public attention. Or for the second case at least the issue of against the bridlement of freedom of speech and information, with the internet user. But differ from protest in offline world that needs intensive preparation, the reaction in the web can occurred organically. The important point, it is easier nowadays to begin activism in the net, but the growth of the movement depends on the cause it defends and the dynamics and process of further information dissemination.

Now lets discuss, how the group grows at large. At a glance we might tempted to say it is easy to start social movement in the web, because people can click even while they are half asleep. Yes, it is clear that social media had ease access to resistance, but due to its easiness to start a movement, people will be bombard by invitation to join various kind of movement. Thus people will chose which group find suitable. Because people consciously chose, we can assume that the group became large not only because it is easy for people to join in, but because the issue had popular support. Beside of that, exist a facebook feature that is suitable for mobilizing and recruiting supporter, that is the wall, that make social presence of friends activity. Human is a social animal that always pay attention on others behavior and action. Seeing other people join a group will create a ‘me too’ peer pressure to join. Receiving invitation to join from others, make people think. To see friends joined massively, gave massive motivation to join the groups.

Beside internal feature, the mass media also played a significant role. In both case, mass media consistently reported updates of facebook movements. For those unconnected to the web, the effect might be similar to hear a huge demonstration in other city; the can not see or feel it directly but aware of a large group presence, doing action of an opposition, thus recognizing them as a resistance. Resistance movement in faceebok is a signal of a grave problems reflected in the society, which eventually reported by the mass media.

The mainstream media reportage gave a positive feedback for the movement: people underestimate the resistance change their mind because now it is in the news. The resistance reputation leveled up because successfully attracts media attention. Even for both case, the media sideline with the resistance since its early stage. Thus the growing resistance is due to combination of mass media relations and the diffusion process in the social media.

Massive virtual resistance reflecting wider popular opinion, also reiterates by actors such as opposition political parties, academician, legal practitioner, and political observers. In the second case, journalist also consolidate themselves and echoed resistance due to their direct future implications. Furthermore, the resistance did not ends in the online sphere. It also became source of legitimation, inspiration and argument amunition for offline resistance. First, the member of online groups take their protest to the offline sphere. For example is facebookers participating in the mass rally of World’s Anti Corruption day. Second, it became melting pot for sharing arguments, information, and other discursive activities member groups argument. Third, it bridge communication between consolidated advocacy movement with the public.

To conclude. The social media has become an alternative tool of resistance; social media can ease somebody to be an activist; it can ease access to resistance; and social media can be used to manage support for a resistance. But beside the use of technology, the issue must also have a sound and popular appeal to the people. More over in order to gain massive support and become influential, social media resistance needs to have an intertwined relations with the mainstream media, both feeding each other support. The combined stong relations between social media and mainstream media, will represent a stronger public opinion of resistance, in line with pressure from other actors, eventually will attract respond from the target of resistance itself. This is a symbiosis relation that might have positive impact for the cause.


[1] Domingo, David and Heinonen, Ari, Webblogs and Journalism; A typology to explore the blurring boundaries, Nordicom Review 30 (2009) 1, pp. 201-216

[2] Lym, Merlina, From War-net to Net-war: The Internet and resistance identity in Indonesia, International Information and Library Review 35 (2003) pp,233-248.

[3] Kaplan, Andreas.M and Haenlein, Michael, Users of the world unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media, Business Horizons, Vol. 53, Issue 1, p. 59-68.

[4] Hollander, Jocelyn.A and Einwohner, Rachel.L, Conceptualizing Resistance, Sociological Forum, Vol. 19, No. 4, December 2004 (C _ 2004). Pp.533-552

[5] CIA, Indonesia Factbooks, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/id.html accessed at 15 March 2010

[6] Reporter Sans Frontier, Press Freedom Index, http://www.rsf.org/fr-classement1001-2009.html

[8] Kaplan, Andreas.M and Haenlein, Michael, Users of the world unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media, Business Horizons, Vol. 53, Issue 1, p. 59-68.

[10] Rothstein, Bo & Teorell in "What is Quality of Government? A Theory of Impartial Political Institutions”; available at http://www.qog.pol.gu.se/working_papers/2005_6%20Rothstein_Teorell.pdf

[12] Rothstein, Bo, Anti-Corruption; The Big Bang Theory; available at http://www.qog.pol.gu.se/working_papers/2007_3_Rothstein.pdf accessed at 17 March 2010

[14] www.transparency.org/indonesia accessed at 15 March 2010

[19] Lym, Merlina, From War-net to Net-war: The Internet and resistance identity in Indonesia, International Information and Library Review 35 (2003) pp,233-248.

[20] Kementerian Komunikasi dan Informasi, Republik Indonesia, http://www.postel.go.id/update/id/baca_info.asp?id_info=1422 accessed at 15 March 2010

[24] ibid

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