Social Media and Indonesia’s 2019 Elections

Social media is increasingly playing a vital role in Indonesia’s 2019 Presidential Campaign. Two prominent experts in the field, Mr Yose Rizal, founder of, and Dr Ross Tapsell, senior lecturer and researcher at Australia National University, were at ISEAS to discuss the impact of social media on the election.


Monday, 18 March 2019 – As social media has been increasingly playing a vital role in Indonesia’s 2019 Presidential Campaign, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute invited two prominent experts in the field, Mr Yose Rizal, founder of, and Dr Ross Tapsell, senior lecturer and researcher at Australia National University, to discuss the impact of social media in the election. This forum was moderated by Dr Quinton Temby, Visiting Fellow with the Indonesia Studies Programme at ISEAS.

From left to right:  Mr Yose Rizal, Dr Quinton Temby and Dr Ross Tapsell (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Rizal shared his company’s work on collecting real-time data of people’s conversation related to the election in various social media platforms. Laying out the demographic and media consumption, he explained that Indonesia has 268 million population whereby 150 million of them are active internet and social media user with mostly identified as eligible voters (18-34 years old). On average, users spend more than 50% of their time to use various social media platforms or online newsroom.

Based on such landscape, Mr Rizal did a sentiment analysis of netizen’s aspirations to the presidential candidate. During the period of February 2019, he found a spike of conversation happened within a week of televised presidential debate. He explained that both positive and negative topics surrounded both candidates.

Moreover, he also found that the percentage of non-political accounts involved in political conversation has contributed to both candidates’ popularity. During the presidential debate on 17 February 2019, for instance, non-political accounts appeared to be more focused on Jokowi’s topic. In terms of influencer pattern, Mr Rizal showed a matrix in which Prabowo’s support group was more dispersed and unconnected to each other compared to Jokowi’s supporter. He also mentioned that hoax news had attacked both candidates. Jokowi, for example, was accused to not allowing religious education and adzan (prayer call) if he is elected. People also struck Prabowo due to a piece of hoax news that he was hitting the citizens.

Mr Yose Rizal about to share some real-time data.  (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Tapsell started his speech by sharing an argument on a polarising election and campaign. He argued that the 2019 Election shows a peculiar paradox of low-key composition of the issues. This is because the campaign has no ideological debate. He rooted his argument by comparing three major elections, those are 2014 Presidential Election, 2017 Jakarta Gubernatorial Election, and 2019 Elections. Dr Tapsell elucidated that both 2014 and 2017 elections were a highly polarising election due to societal division created by the campaign. Meanwhile, he observed the 2019 election as a ‘sleep-walking’ phenomenon. There remains a polarised society, in which they could not agree to disagree. Moreover, social media has also encouraged people to be leaning to abstainer (golput).

During the campaign in the past six months, several issues have been polarising the voters. For example, the ‘hoax emergency’ has still been haunting netizen in the social media platform. Moreover, Dr Tapsell pointed out that polarisation inspired by the 2016 US Election has also alerted the elites on the importance of consolidation, though the campaign against polarization might be an excuse for elite power-sharing. The Indonesian netizen seems not interested in serious conversation about politics.

Nevertheless, Dr Tapsell did not think that religion is still a polarising factor in the election. Although scholar has ever argued that the conservative Muslim group went to Prabowo while Jokowi was backed up by conservative nationalist Muslim, he found no distinction between those conservative groups. Additionally, he also thought that there was no ideological rationale behind the #2019GantiPresiden (2019 Change the President) hashtag. Dr Tapsell concluded his talk by noting that this year’s election has led to more consensus building, compared to the previous ones. While election supposedly becomes an essential element to support democracy, in the context of Indonesia, the 2019 election seems to become the biggest threat to democracy.

Participants at the seminar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Eighty-five attendees from a different background, ranging from government officials, diplomats, businesspeople, social media activists, international organisations, media, academician, and the public, joined the 90-minutes seminar. They engaged in a discussion on a wide variety of topics, including creative campaign, the role of WhatsApp in spreading the campaign and hoax news, and the gap between rural-urban social media users.