Webinar on “Confronting Online Manipulation and Disinformation”

This webinar discussed the role of social media and actors involved in recent examples of online manipulation and disinformation, and examined the various civilian counter-efforts in Indonesia.

Digital Technologies and Democracy in Southeast Asia

Monday, 26 October 2020 – A panel of social media experts and scholars discussed the topic of “Confronting Online Manipulation and Disinformation” as part of a seven-part webinar series on “Digital Technologies and Democracy in Southeast Asia”. Jointly organised by the Media, Technology and Society Programme and the Indonesia Studies Programme, the webinar featured the insights of Dr Amalinda Savirani (Gadjah Mada University), Mr M. Hikari Ersada (former member of Student Executive Body, Gadjah Mada University), Mr Roysepta Abimanyu (Daksi Ada Data; former Advisor of the Executive Office of the President of the Republic of Indonesia), Dr Wijayanto (Diponegoro University; LP3ES) and Dr Ismail Fahmi (Islamic University of Indonesia, Yogyakarta; Drone Emprit). The discussion was moderated by Senior Fellow of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, Dr Siwage Dharma Negara.

Dr Amalinda Savirani and Mr M. Hikari Ersada
Dr Amalinda Savirani and Mr M. Hikari Ersada discussed “Dealing with Disinformation surrounding #GejayanMemanggil”. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The webinar began with Dr Amalinda Savirani and Mr M. Hikari Ersada’s presentation which examined the responses and challenges faced by the student movement ­­­– also known as the Gejayan Memanggil demonstrations – that emerged in September 2019 to combat disinformation. Dr Savirani observed that disinformation operated in a cyclical fashion, before and after each demonstration, to impede and delegitimise the student movement. Mr Ersada then shared that the original hashtag #GejayanMemanggil was hijacked to spread false accusations that the movement was affiliated to opposition parties and religious fundamentalist groups like Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), and conversely to weaken Joko Widodo’s presidency. Consequently, students resorted to offline communication to sustain the demonstration. Dr Savirani concluded that tackling disinformation was crucial to overcome the risk of internal distrust.

Mr Roysepta Abimanyu
Mr Roysepta Abimanyu examined “Mapping the Paths to Change: Civic Group’s Interventions to Counter Disinformation in Indonesia”. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Roysepta Abimanyu examined the impact of civilian interventions in countering disinformation and misinformation in Indonesia. To mitigate the limitations of the state’s responses to disinformation, he shared that civic groups have stepped in to introduce interventions through advocacy and collaboration. These interventions have been aimed at reforming laws related to freedom of speech and access to information, increasing public immunity to disinformation and online manipulation, and nurturing digital activism. Despite a decrease in reports of disinformation due to reduced political conflict at the end of 2019, poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recently passed omnibus law have caused a surge in disinformation online.

Dr Wijayanto
Dr Wijayanto spoke on the recent case of disinformation around the Covid-19 crisis: “Normalising the New Normal? Public Opinion Manipulation on Social Media to Support the New Normal Policy in Indonesia”. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)
Dr Ismail Fahmi
Dr Ismail Fahmi noted that social network analysis revealed how cyber troops and computational propaganda have amplified conversations to support and oppose the ‘new normal’ policy. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Wijayanto and Dr Ismail Fahmi shared their insights on dynamics and impacts of public opinion manipulation on social media to support the ‘New Normal’ policy in Indonesia. Since the official announcement and President Jokowi’s visit to a mall in Bekasi on 26 May, the narrative on ‘new normal’ policy – to describe Indonesia’s post-pandemic era – had been sustained for months, generating more than 1.4 million online conversations and extensive media coverage. Dr Fahmi noted that social network analysis revealed how cyber troops and computational propaganda have amplified conversations to support and oppose the ‘new normal’ policy, through numerous hashtags and keyword mentions. In closing, the speakers highlighted that social media has played a significant role in shaping the agenda of mainstream media and people’s perception of reality, which has successfully normalised the ‘new normal’ policy in the public’s minds.

The webinar concluded with a Question and Answer segment where the panel engaged with the audience on a variety of issues. They included the student movement’s responses against disinformation and delegitimising statements from the government in the Omnibus Law protests, and comparisons with the Gejayan Memanggil movement; differences in the character of disinformation in different social media platforms; influence of geographical distance on the amplification of hashtag narratives on Twitter; suggestions to improve public trust in social media; and trends between urban and rural areas in their susceptibility to hoax and disinformation.

Over 70 participants attended the webinar that was moderated by Dr Siwage Dharma Negara. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)