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Campaign, Disinformation and Influence in the 2019 Indonesian National Elections

Sat, August 31, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Hilton, Columbia 11


The proposed paper focuses on uses of micro-blogging platform Twitter and WhatsApp for the campaigns in the 2019 national elections in Indonesia. We analyze how various political parties and their candidates have been using Twitter and WhatsApp to reach out to potential voters and how voters make sense of campaign messages as well as disinformation. There are about 100 million Indonesian having access to the Internet. Indonesia has fourth largest Twitter users, while the country ranks second in terms of WhatsApp users. Political parties and candidates have integrated social media and micro-messaging platform in their campaign strategies and have been using them extensively for their political campaign. There are also several cases of disinformation being circulated by various political parties and candidates as part of their campaign strategies. The proposed research therefore addresses two broad research questions: Do campaigns influence voters? Is disinformation being circulated as part of campaign strategies to influence public opinion? The proposed research is based on multi-methods design combining Twitter sentiment analysis, interviews with journalists, fact-checkers, campaign strategists as well as users of Twitter and WhatsApp.

Indonesia is not only world’s largest archipelagic state but is ethnically most diverse nation. Since the dawn of “New Order” in 1998 often referred to post Reformasi era, media in general in Indonesia has grown rapidly operating under democratic regime. The arrival of new media has further helped democratic voices to express themselves freely. Yet media concentration has been one of the key structural problems afflicting Indonesian media system. This media concentration in the hands of a few has led Lim (2012) to refer to Indonesian media as “the league of 13” referring to dominance of 13 media conglomerate in the country. There is also growing pressure on journalists from political parties to support party agenda. No wonder, the World Press Freedom Index 2018 ranks Indonesia 124 out of 180 countries.

Political actors have been using religious and ethnic fault lines to spread disinformation. There has been report of the use of propaganda by non-mainstream media known as media abal-abal. Some of these websites include, which have been alleged of spreading Islamist propaganda. Prabowo Subianto since 2012 Presidential contest has enjoyed the support of these Islamist hardline propaganda websites. In response, there are rise of other websites in support of Jokowi Widodo, the current President, to counter rival propaganda. There has been report of deliberate attempt to spread misinformation (Lim, 2017; Kajimoto & Stanley, 2018). Given these contexts, we are most likely to see fierce battle to influence public opinion in the run up to the Indonesia general election. While social media has been continuously expanding in Indonesia, little is known how social media has been playing a role and influencing Indonesian politics (for exception, see Ahmad & Popa, 2014; Lim, 2017). The proposed research therefore fills the gap in the existing literature on the role of social media in electoral politics in Indonesia, besides mapping the spread of disinformation in the run-up to the Presidential and general election campaigns.

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