Thursday, 14 November 2019

Rein in the Buzzers

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  • President Joko Widodo, accompanied by State Secretary Pratikno, conveys his deepest condolences on the deaths of 33 people during the conflict in Wamena at the Bogor Presidential Palace on Monday, September 30, 2019. TEMPO/Friski Riana

    President Joko Widodo, accompanied by State Secretary Pratikno, conveys his deepest condolences on the deaths of 33 people during the conflict in Wamena at the Bogor Presidential Palace on Monday, September 30, 2019. TEMPO/Friski Riana

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The actions of the social media buzzers supporting President Joko Widodo are increasingly endangering democracy in this nation. They have shared hoax news on social media to influence public opinion. These supporters have become part of a short-term political interest: safeguarding government policy.

    It is these supporters who were the first to spread the reports about an ambulance with the logo of the Jakarta city government full of rocks during last week’s demonstrations by high school students. Recorded by Drone Emprit, an application for monitoring conversation on the Internet, their tweets were several hours ahead of the Greater Jakarta Police official account. Some of them ridiculed Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, who they have opposed since the 2017 gubernatorial election. Subsequently, the police said that the reports were not true.

    In the selection of the prospective leaders of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and the revision to the KPK Law, these buzzers spread provocative reports that the agency was under the control of a hardline religious group that they referred to as the Taliban. They claimed that Novel Baswedan, an investigator known to be tenacious in investigating major corruption cases, was a lackey of the caliphate. When people expressed support for the KPK, they were attacked, and labeled supporters of the caliphate.

    These buzzers are a product of the failure of the freedom of expression era. Making use of their ability to write – some of Jokowi’s buzzers are former journalists – and the fanaticism of their readers, they produce hoax news that looks real. Sometimes this is accompanied by the words ‘based on intelligence sources.’ In the face of a massive onslaught of information from supporters proclaiming the same message, Jokowi’s supporters who do not verify the truth of these reports join in and support them and insult those of opposing opinions.

    These buzzers appear to have a close relationship with those in power and the authorities. They are easily able to obtain information on those seen as enemies, such as ID cards, telephone numbers and even the type of cell phone they use. The government’s support for these buzzers was apparent from the blocking of accounts with differing opinions, which were accused of spreading hoax news. Collaboration between the buzzers and the authorities eventually strengthens the cartel of power that muzzles freedom of opinion and speech.

    President Jokowi must immediately bring his buzzers under control: it is difficult to believe that he does not know about them even if he does not control them. But even without them, there is no need for Jokowi to worry about attacks on social media. Having garnered 55.5 percent of votes in the recent election, Jokowi has loyal followers who stand ready to defend him on social media. If Jokowi’s performance in the next five years is good, especially in those areas that still have the potential to cause problems, his true supporters will still defend the president.

    In this digital era, there is nothing wrong with a state official having special teams on the Internet to help him gain victories or promote his successes. But when state officials allow their buzzers to act recklessly and spreading disinformation, it is time to ask questions about the authenticity of their leaders.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine