With ever-growing numbers of people using service such as Facebook and Twitter, social media are changing the way Indonesians communicate. And the rise of the smart phone means they do not necessarily need to own a computer in order to join in the trend.
According to a report by Indonesia Finance Today, smart phone penetration has reached 67% of all Indonesian consumers as of mid 2012. Meanwhile, the country has the third largest pool of Facebook users worldwide (43 million), behind only the United States (155.7 million) and India (43.5 million), according to Social Bakers, a website that tracks the daily global usage of different social media sites.
Although initially based in urban areas, the internet craze has increasingly spread to rural areas, with more and more customers demanding web-ready mobile phones that enable them to access social networking sites, according to a report published last year by The Jakarta Globe.
“This trend is also spurred by the growing number of Facebook and Twitter users in the country,” The Globe quoted Izak Jenie, a director at the cellphone company Nexian, as saying.
Enda Nasution, a social media activist, told Khabar Southeast Asia that the pattern of Internet usage has changed since the technology was first introduced to Indonesia in the mid-1990s. The process, he said, began with home computers, moving to cheap laptops, Internet-capable headphones and now smartphones.
“With the country’s rising economic growth, many Indonesians have more money to spend on their secondary needs such as smartphones, which serve as communication and information tools and can be accessed anytime, anywhere,” he said.
The trend, many say, has profound implications for the democracy, activism, civic participation and the free flow of information.
Linking people with shared interests and concerns
“Social media is often used to influence policy makers and also as a tool to ensure government accountability,” Enda told Khabar.
Dian Paramita is one of Indonesia’s “Twitter celebrities”. Active since 2009, she has more than 13,100 Twitter followers. In turn, she follows numerous activists, politicians, journalists, lawyers, and artists in order to keep herself updated about the issues she cares about – including politics, society, justice, economics and animal rights.
“One thing that I love about Twitter is that we can get information quickly; we can share our aspirations or opinions on certain or current issues, which can lead to a real movement or action by society,” she said.
Twitter helps link up people with similar concerns, fostering discussion and action, she told Khabar.
“When Mount Merapi [a central Java volcano] exploded in 2010, I shared my idea to help the victims with #PeduliMerapi on Twitter. I got so many positive responses from my followers,” she said.
Trend still in its infancy?
According to Arya Fernandez, a political analyst at the Charta Politika research institute, social media have started to change the nature of the relationship between Indonesia’s political leaders and the citizens they represent.
“Social media have given a chance for politicians and constituents to have direct two-way communication. Whereas before it was only one-way interaction via traditional media, such as television and also radio,” he told Khabar.
However, he cautioned, the phenomenon is still at an early stage and obstacles remain.
“Unlike in Egypt, the power of social media in Indonesia is still at the level of mobilising an issue to create public opinion rather than mobilising a societal movement,” he said.
“There are political communities involved in social media, but unfortunately it is limited to a cyber-level discussion only.”
“It cannot be used yet to mobilise society to push the government to make changes,” he said.
Dian, the Twitter celebrity, however, argues that the impact of social media amounts to more than just sharing opinions.
“My aspirations were realised in a real action,” she said, insisting that social media “can lead to a discussion, and even better it can lead to real action or societal movement.”
“At least, we have offered our ideas,” she said. “If we do not do that, how can we make changes?”