It’s no secret that social media is becoming an important tool for spreading information in Indonesia. But what role will it play in the 2014 elections?

The numbers are impressive: Jakarta is the ‘twitter capital of the world’, and Bandung comes in 6th in the world rankings. By 2015 there will be more active Sims in Indonesia than people and with cheap smart phones becoming increasingly accessible, Indonesia’s social media usage is expected to grow. For the upcoming elections in Indonesia, candidates and political parties will need to quickly develop social media campaigns to engage with the projected 21 million first time, tech-savvy voters.

A photo from @partaigerindra's Instagram account.

A photo from @partaigerindra’s Instagram account.

Indonesia’s youth voters are highly tech literate, with 80% of Indonesia’s Internet users under the age of 35. More importantly for the upcoming elections, 90% of internet traffic in Indonesia is directed to social networking sites, in contrast to only 6% being used to access political news and information. For politicians vying to be elected this year, social media is becoming an indispensible tool, which Prabowo Subianto, the Presidential candidate for Partai Gerindra noted allows him to communicate with 3 million people every night.

Prabowo is one of the key candidates for the upcoming Presidential elections, and has established a strong presence online. Run by tech-savvy Indonesian youth, Gerindra has a 24 hour social media campaign, to ensure that all tweets and Facebook comments are responded to within 10 minutes. Gerindra’s official Facebook page has over 1 million likes and Prabowo’s personal page tops 3 million.  Gerindra has the strongest online presence, followed by PDI-P. Golkar has also developed a social media team of 30 to drive their social media campaign in the led up the April elections, which will be increased to 50 in the lead up to the Presidential elections in July. Golkar’s chief of communications Mr Erwin Aksa notes that the aim of the ‘social media brigade’ is to engage the youth vote.

The power of social media was evident in the 2012 election of Jakartan Governor and newly nominated Presidential candidate for PDI-P, Joko Widodo. In the lead up to the 2012 election Jokowi garnered 500,000 twitter followers, as well utilized Youtube to promote his message. The election of Jokowi and Ahok has been noted as the first Indonesian politicians who truly understood the power of social media in elections, considering neither Jokowi or Ahok were residing in Jakarta.

Social Media represents a modern component of Indonesian politics, however old traditions are infiltrating these elections and have the potential to impact youth participation. Reports have surfaced of ‘follower-buying’, for just 40,000 rupiah ($4.00) 1,000 followers can be added to a Twitter account. Paying people to take part in demonstrations is common practice in Indonesia, and vote-buying is a key concern in the lead up to elections across the archipelago, however paying for followers and likes is a new phenomenon. The strategy will not necessarily correspond to votes at the ballot box, with Gerindra’s digital media strategist Mr Noudhy Valdryno noting research shows that only 6 out of every 10 followers could translate to votes on election day.

The power of social media in shaping the upcoming elections will not be known until July, yet it is clear that political parties are taking its potential power seriously. In early February, PDI-P candidate Tunggal Pawestri tweeted that Joko Widodo had been nominated as PDI-P Presidential candidate, the news was retweeted 240 times within 24 hours, however it was later proven to be a hoax.  Tunggal noted that she wanted to prove to power of social media to spread false news in the lead-up to the elections. Twitter was still the medium of choice when the PDI-P announced that Joko Widodo would be their Presidential candidate for the 2014 elections. On March 14, PDI-P Leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri announced that she had given Jokowi her blessing as the party’s Presidential candidate. The announcement was followed by a second tweet showing Megawati’s written endorsement.

There are 8.2 million conversations in Indonesia’s social media environment about the Presidential candidates, 6.9 million focus on PDI-P candidate Jokowi. These kind of figures illustrate the power of social media conversations to create waves of opinion that can shape the tech literate voters. Tempo one of Indonesia’s news outlets has tapped into the social media landscape, and has begun analysing social media conversations to provide statistics about Presidential candidates, on their site Tempo Political Index. According to their ‘buzz’ graph, which refers to the conversation about candidates on social media, Jokowi is leading the charge with over 75% of the conversations being about him.


The “total buzz” graph from Tempo’s political index.

Social media is becoming an aspect of everyday life in Indonesia, as well as putting Indonesian trends and news on the global front. Each day Indonesia publishes 2.4% of the global tweets, which means a tweet is sent every 15 seconds. For Indonesia’s youth population, social media is allowing them to engage with the upcoming elections, becoming informed of the political process and the candidates, as well as creating a dialogue between candidates, political parties and the general population.