Webinar on “Creating Chaos and Consent: Cyber Troops and Organised Propaganda in Indonesia’s Cybersphere”

In this webinar, Dr Yatun Sastramidjaja discusses the role of cyber troopers and their effects on Indonesia’s digital and political landscape.


Tuesday, 21 September 2021 — The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute held a webinar moderated by Lee Sue Ann (Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) titled “Creating Chaos and Consent: Cyber Troops and Organised Propaganda in Indonesia’s Cybersphere”. The webinar featured the products of Dr Yatun Sastramidjaja’s (Associate Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) research on online narrative battles in Indonesia.

Dr Yatun Sastramidjaja
Moderator Ms Lee Sue Ann and speaker Dr Yatun Sastramidjaja interact during the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Yatun started off by contextualising “cybertroopers” and “buzzers” which are an online phenomenon that emerged in the context of a changing political and digital landscape in Indonesia. These cyber troops organise propaganda with the intention to interfere with public debate and influence public opinion. Currently, Indonesia serves as an emerging arena globally for cyber troopers. The research serves to answer several key questions such as: “To what extent do these cyber troopers influence online public discussions” as well as questions regarding who are occupying the key roles in the cyber troops campaigns, why, and how.

Dr Yatun then shared the types of teams and command chains these cyber troops operate under. These armies of cyber troops are made up of different individuals who play different roles. One role includes operating bots and anonymous accounts to create a “buzz” on social media with the aim of making their message go viral all while attempting to make them seem as organic as possible. Public influencers can also play the role of a buzzer by sharing these political messages on their accounts to their large group of followers.

Dr Yatun explored the different dynamics in which cyber troops operate under during the past electoral campaigns. During the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial elections, cyber troops were mostly social media volunteers. Ever since, these groups have become more organised and have even received financial backing from political figures as well as businessmen and entrepreneurs. Over the years, cyber troopers have become more professional including organising training from the different political camps for those interested in joining them.

Dr Yatun then shares the recent different cyber trooper campaigns. Cyber troopers have shifted from focusing only on electoral campaigns to operating and spreading “buzz” regarding new government policies. In the case of the New Normal policy in May 2020, both influencers and buzzers were mobilised to garner public support. Here, findings show that there was a multi-actor campaign and inter-ministerial level collaboration between different government sectors and industries. Similar usage of influencers and buzzers can be seen in the Omnibus Law policy introduction. Both campaigns used hashtags to promote the policies.

Dr Yatun emphasises that these cyber troopers can be toxic in their operations. They may be mobilised to “attack” their opponents, using death threats, slurs and defamation campaigns all while stifling public discourse. However, there are efforts trying to counter the role of these cyber troopers. Cyberdeterministic solutions like banning and removing social media accounts meanwhile, are not effective in nipping the problem in the bud.  For example, younger netizens who more likely possess digital literacy are pushing to ridicule these buzzers and garner media attention around their campaigns. Dr Yatun sees that to disrupt cyber trooper campaigns, one way is to push them out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

Dr Yatun concluded by sharing some key takeaways from their research and raised questions about the future of cybertroopers in Indonesia and online political discourses, particularly in upcoming elections and policy discussions.

The Question and Answer segment saw questions on the speakers’ research methodology and experience as well as her thoughts on the types of cyber troopers on different platforms. On the latter, the speaker shared observations on other platforms such as WhatsApp where misinformation is also common.

Over a hundred people attended this webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)