Indonesia’s Hashtag Wars: How Online Narrative Battles Shape Political Controversy


About the Webinar

The stark polarisation of political views expressed on social media is having a critical effect on real-world politics. Cyberspace becomes a key arena for fighting political battles, not only for activists but for governments too. The growing role and impact of online political battles became clear during Indonesia’s Omnibus Law controversy in 2020. The passing of the law triggered massive street protests and met with strong objections from civil society. On social media, too, Indonesian Twitter exploded with anti-Omnibus Law posts and hashtags, as it did during previous cyber-actions against the proposed bill. But this time the authorities offseted the public impact of the protest, both on the streets and online. While street rallies were quickly banned, the national police was instructed to intensify online surveillance of activists, as well as to launch concerted “counter-narrative efforts” on social media, including the use of pro-Omnibus Law hashtags and attractive infographics. At the same time, government-affiliated influencers and paid “buzzers” focused on delegitimising the protesters. On social media, activists could still expose some of the authorities’ messages as propaganda or even disinformation, but they struggled to argue against the narration that their protest was illegitimate. Moreover, the threat of cyber-surveillance and prosecution under cyber-laws had a chilling effect on online political criticism. In this webinar, Dr Yatun Sastramidjaja and Mr Pradipa P. Rasidi will discuss the political dynamics and effects of the “hashtag wars” waged during this political controversy. They will also assess to what extent official strategies to control the narrative and space of online expression reflects a new system of governance in which cyberspace serves to control civil society.

About the Speakers

Dr Yatun Sastramidjaja is an Assistant Professor in Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam, and an Associate Fellow with the Media, Technology and Society programme at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. Her research focuses on the ambivalent relationship between digital technologies and democracy processes in Southeast Asia. In particular, she examines the digital protest repertoires of Southeast Asia’s recent youth movements; the role of cyber-troops and influencers in public opinion manipulation; and current trends in cyber-policing and digital authoritarianism.

Mr Pradipa P. Rasidi received his Master in Anthropology from the University of Indonesia (2020) with a thesis on Twitter microcelebrities and virtual place-making; he completed his Bachelor in Political Science also at the University of Indonesia. He previously worked as developer and designer in the information technology industry and was involved in digital media projects with various NGOs. He currently works as research assistant in the Dutch-Indonesian project on “Cyber Troops and Public Opinion Manipulation in Indonesia”.


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Mar 23 2021


3:00 pm - 4:15 pm