Webinar on “Indonesia’s Hashtag Wars: How Online Narrative Battles Shape Political Controversy”

In this webinar, Dr Yatun Sastramidjaja and Mr Pradipa P. Rasidi discuss the political dynamics and effects of the “hashtag wars” waged during the Indonesian Omnibus Law political controversy.


Tuesday, 23 March 2021 — The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute held a webinar moderated by Dr Quinton Temby (Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) titled “Indonesia’s Hashtag Wars: How Online Narrative Battles Shape Political Controversy”. The webinar featured the products of Dr Yatun Sastramidjaja (Associate Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) and Mr Pradipa P. Rasidi’s research on online narrative battles when Indonesia introduced the Omnibus law in 2020.

Dr Yatun Sastramidjaja and Mr Pradipa P. Rasidi
Moderator Dr Quinton Temby and speakers Dr Yatun Sastramidjaja and Mr Pradipa P. Rasidi interact during the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Yatun started off by contextualising the “hashtag wars” which is the latest online battle that began in the context of a changing political landscape in Indonesia. This new political landscape is characterised by the new hegemony established after Prabowo, Jokowi’s opposition in the 2019 elections, was included in Jokowi’s cabinet. Beyond “framing contests,” Dr Yatun suggested that the online battle should also be seen as a narrative battle for political influence and control which in turn shapes political opinion.

Dr Yatun then explored the previous online battles that played out in Indonesia’s digital political landscape. Prior to the Omnibus Law in 2020, “hashtag wars” also occurred between the pro-Jokowi and pro-Prabowo camps during the 2019 presidential elections. In the case of the current “hashtag wars,” opposers of the Omnibus Law initially organised demonstrations in September 2019 against other controversial laws, using the hashtag #ReformCorrupted. This was paired with the hashtag #RejectOmnibusLaw when the Omnibus Law was first drafted and introduced. While there were plans to intensify the demonstrations after a slight dip in activity in the earlier part of 2020, much of their activity was forced to go online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Dr Yatun explored how the protests were translated into the digital landscape during the pandemic as evident from the “hashtag wars” which the pro-government and opposition camps engaged in. While the former was in support of the Omnibus Bill, the latter were against it. She notes how the pandemic encouraged protestors to find new creative ways to protest. They did so in order to prevent large crowds of people from gathering, and to encourage protestors to stay home and avoid travelling. This was seen in the use of alternatives to human protestors such as the use of art and mannequins as well as the use of online hashtags that reminded everybody to be responsible and stay at home.

Dr Yatun shared on the role of infographics when the draft was being changed and drafted. With over 1000 pages and riddled with the legal jargon that may not be understood by laypeople, infographics were created by those at the grassroots in order to help others understand the bill. With parliament frequently making changes to the drafts, infographics very quickly and undeniably played an important role in shaping discourse on the bill. While pro-government supporters utilised infographics to increase support for the bill, the activists who opposed the bill used the same medium to highlight its problems. Dr Yatun also explored the role of social media platforms, influencers, buzzers and activists in the online battle.

Mr Pradipa then explored the role of online games and platforms that were in trend at that time. He explored how activists had used multiplayer games like “Among Us” and Discord servers to game, bond and discuss activism, all while at home. He also suggested that there was a strong reliance on coded language to avoid overtly criticising the government. Mr Pradipa also explored the role of the media in shaping the discourse on the bill, as they determined the portrayal of both the online and offline protests. Both speakers agreed that protestors and activists still face consequences for their actions as evident from the fact that activists that were arrested for their involvement. Furthermore, activists also faced both online and offline harassment from pro-government supporters.  

The speakers concluded by sharing some takeaways from their research and raised questions about the future of democracy in Indonesia, the future of online political discourses as well as the role of grassroots political organisations. The Question and Answer segment saw questions on the speakers’ research methodology and experience, and their other findings on the role of buzzers in future discourse as well as the role of online discourse with regard to Indonesia’s foreign policy.

Over 80 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)