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[Talk] Pop ‘n Politics: Web 2.0 and Participatory Culture in Indonesia

20 February 2010 16,234 views 13 Comments

Please find below the slide-show of my talk at the First Annual Digital Media and Learning Conference: “Diversifying Participation”. in University of California, San Diego, Friday, Feb 19, 2009.

It is entitled “Pop ‘n Politics: Web 2.0 and Participatory Culture in Indonesia” which essentially examines the ways in which boundaries of the domain of culture and the domain of politics are merged and blurred (using the case of “Gecko vs Crocodile” and “Coins for Prita”). It explores on (shifting) socio-technical landscape, characteristics and features of social media platform, the nature of issues as well as as the nature of real-world outputs/action that enable (or disable) the translation of participatory culture into political/civic engagement.

[I don’t have any written version of my talk, so my note below is far from comprehensive, they only represent fragments of my thoughts — apology.]

Scholarly discourse of the political implications of Web 2.0 in some ways bolsters a debate on the democratizing nature of the Internet in early 1990s. At the heart of this debate is the concept of participation. There are two streams dominating the discourse; first one focuses on the ongoing and increasing concern about public participation (or lack of it) in modern democracies where a (new) Web 2.0 driven type of participation (of Web 2.0) being perceived as banal and superficial and generates little or no influence to transform or renew the ailing (or perceived to be ailing) institutions of democracy. The second focuses on the rise of new forms of participation in public life enabled by emerging new technologies, particularly social media (Web 2.0), that will potentially transform political debates and citizenship and reform the political system. Both of these views are reductionist and partial. They fail to recognize the complexity and dynamics of the relationship between social media and its participatory users.

Using some empirical cases from Indonesia, I argue for a much more critical approach to the promise of Web 2.0. By examining two prominent examples of collective socio-political uses of Web 2.0–particularly facebook–by young Indonesians, I argue that Web 2.0 doesn’t generate an ideal public sphere in which effective and robust public participation takes place. Web 2.0, however, enables multiple and diverse networked spheres to emerge. These are contested spheres that are sometimes messy, chaotic, segmented and even anarchic. Not all of these aim to advance and deepen democracy, but within these convivial spheres individuals and groups have a greater ability to be political. I also argue that the more promising forms of online politics are not bound within a framework of conventional politics. Activities that do not readily fit into traditional notion of politics, such as those that emerge within the boundary of (popular) culture and politics, while not inherently democratic, have opened a new avenue for participation and thus potentially contributes to the formation of a more open, diverse, and egalitarian political segment in the networked publics.

Popular culture is where participatory culture (mostly) take place, in the forms of affiliation, expression, collaboration, and distribution (circulation). In this domain, youth activities mostly are revolved around fun, self-expression, and social gain, none is readily categorized as part of democratic processes. This participatory culture, however, serves as an infrastructure that can be readily borrowed/used by socio-political activities — civic engagement (or sometimes, uncivil). It helps establishing a foundation or a training ground for young people, eg: to express their opinions, to exercise their rights, to collaborate…

With the growing uses of Web 2.0, online activities entail participatory culture and online politics efforts (mobilization and deliberation) are on the rise. However, generally, they belong to different social groups. Teens and young Indonesians of 20s occupy the ‘culture’ side, while older Indonesians (mid 20s to mid 30s) in the ‘politics’ side. The rising popularity of Facebook (it started to become very popular in October 2008, Facebook Co. cited Indonesia as a country with highest growth of users and now its population ranks #2 after the United States) marks a different dynamic. While generally youngsters are still connected with other youngsters, Facebooks enables the collapse of social networks. Information is easily diffused between various social networks belong to different age groups (and other types of groups).

Two cases from Indonesia I bring up in this talk (visualized in the slide-show), the Facebook movement to support The Corruption Eradication Committee — the case of “gecko vs crocodile”, and the successful mass movement to support Prita — the case of “coins for Prita” exemplified this process — where social issues rode on the participatory culture and resulted in two of the most successful collective movements in the last decade in Indonesia.


Gecko vs Crocodile
– The case refers to the controversy surrounding Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), including the indictment of its former chair for murder, the charges of corruption lodged (perhaps for political purposes) against its deputy chairmen, and the position of President Yudhoyono on the charges and on corruption in general.
– Indonesians’ perception: charges = fabricated.
– KPK is a victim, a gecko (cicak) vs a crocodile (big gov)
– Cinta Indonesia CintA Kpk (Cicak as an acronym, also means ‘gecko’ in Indonesian) moment was established.
– YouTube videos around issues emerged, including the one with Javanese rap song that was distributed as downloadable ringtones.
– Various online cartoons/comics/posters with a depiction of gecko vs crocodile emerged online.
– Facebook movement: One Million Support for Gecko — got 1 million fans in less than a week.
– Organizing rally, 5000 Facebookers showed up on the streets of Jakarta showing support for the gecko.


Coins for Prita
– The case refers to a story of Prita Mulyasari, a 32-year-old mother of two, who was ordered by Tangerang High Court to pay a Rp 204 million fine for defaming Omni International Hospital. The defamation suit was a reaction to an e-mail complaint sent by Prita to her friends and relatives about the bad service she received at the hospital. Omni’s lawyers accused Prita of violating the Information and Electronic Transaction Law, Indonesia’s Cyber Law. Prita was arrested in May 2009 and detained for three weeks. Her case was immediately reported by the media. Bloggers were outraged to learn that a nursing mother was jailed for sending an e-mail complaint. Due to public pressure, Prita was released from prison. It also helped that political candidates had been visiting her in jail. Prita’s ordeal didn’t end in July 2009 when the court junked the case. Her doctors at Omni succeeded in convincing the prosecutors to challenge the ruling. Early February 2010, the Tangerang High Court found Prita guilty of defaming her doctors. The court ordered her to pay a fine of Rp 204 million (around US$22,000). She was also given a jail sentence of six months.
– As mentioned above, political bloggers & bloggers who write on social issues, have already tapped into the issue since the genesis of the case.
– The case got popular among older bloggers (mid 20s and older) but not really got attention of groups of younger Indonesians.
– It’s only when Facebook support page for Prita got setup then the issue became more popular.
– Some individuals got together and came up with an idea of collecting 500 Rupiahs (~5 cent US$) coins to support Prita Mulyasari in paying the fine — which means they need around 408,000 people to donate.
– A Facebook page of “Coins for Prita” was setup, the movement took off. Many online posters were created. Many Facebookers put on the poster as their profile headshot.
– The movement combined online and offline acts. The collection took place from Dec 5 to Dec 14, and in the end around US$ 90,000 was collected.
– Youngsters, teenagers were among the most active participants of this movement.
– (Might due to public pressure) In Dec 29, 2009, the court decided that Prita was not guilty.
– The money will now be donated to a charity organization, or used to help other “Pritas”

In both cases (see last slide), I identify some important shifts in the dynamics of individual and group interaction — influenced by the change of platforms. Just a simple change of platform from blogging to FaceBooking brings up several significant differences, e.g.: from voluntary reading/listening/watching to ‘everything is thrown at you on your wall’, from producing and consuming to joining and sharing, from writing and commenting, to commenting comments of comment (haha). The diffusion of information that happens (mostly) in the cluster is changed to the one in multiple clusters as clusters are collapsed. An infrastructure of the Facebook forces for a certain type of transparent flow of information, and [forced] transparent conformity. Also if compared to blogging type of Web 2.0, Facebook (social networking platform) encourages the rise and expansion of social network formation based on weak ties. Here we get into the paradox of ties. In the case of collectivity, I argue that the strength of weak ties enables micro levels (of social interaction) to be linked with macro levels. Weak ties are indispensable to individuals’ opportunities and their integrations to communities.

I also identify types of narratives that enable the collapse of popular participatory culture stream with the political action. They usually are simple or simplified narratives (could represent simple or complex issues), and have strong symbolic representations (easy identification of villain & hero, victim & power abuser, etc.) that are close to everyday narrative of layperson, and are flexible enough to fit to multiple social clusters. The translation from online activities (clicking and typing and sharing) to offline collective movements is also bridged by the type of action offered. Certainly low risk, accessible and affordable action such as giving one coin of 500 Rupiahs is easier to mobilize than going to the street for protest or (let alone!) going to the battlefield.


  • colson said:

    Wow. Thanks so much for sharing.

    It’s a fascinating subject and I guess you are absolutely right: 2.0 ( and 3.0?) are here for better or for worse.

    Actually I think it will have/ has about the same impact once TV had(Nixon versus Kennedy); politically it is neutral. As such it brings no systemic change, just another venue. TV stressed the importance of looks in politics, the Web stresses the importance of hypes.


  • colson said:

    OMG: I meant to write: “for better and for worse”.


  • mlim (author) said:

    colson: you’re most welcome. i wished to be able to really share — i didn’t record the talk — so people get what i was talking about. my short note here isn’t particularly helpful. i’d argue that it’s not the same with television. every technology has its own political characteristics…. in this case, social media is really a participatory technology, more than any other previous technology. especially if you’re of today’s generation (the youth), their technological driven activities are very participatory, their culture too… and this participatory culture — like the Coins for Prita case in Indonesia clearly shows — can serve as a infrastructure for civic engagement. television doesn’t have such feature — it’s easy to be a viewer, but how to participate in the production? this what makes this social media technology very different. i don’t say it democratizes more .. just it’s different. and it’s political.


  • lila said:

    Mer, minta ijin dicopy supaya aku bisa baca dg tenang, weheheehe..tapi tidak disebarluaskan hanya utk aku aja, ini msh kuno jadi msh blm puas kalo tdk ada hard copy yg bisa dicoret2, nuhun pisan!


  • mlim (author) said:

    lila: iya, mbak… silakan diprint.


  • Putri said:

    yang ketiga adalah potoblog. well, i read something like this on Jakarta Post. and the point of both yours and its is : you all tried to get the closest objective view from those event. sounds interesting and i’l share on my twit (my english mini-blog and surely on that damn facebook. LOL)


  • mlim (author) said:

    putri: “get the closest objective view from those events” is more a methodological statement. my point is actually: social media that easily generates participatory culture (people participate and interact as part of social life) doesn’t really automatically translate to civic engagement or let alone democratic movements, but there are ways in which they could collapse (these ways were ones analyzed by me). article in the jakarta post, i read, it’s mostly looking at the hopes and hypes, but don’t really analyze.


  • Ayden Simmons said:

    i always participate in youth activities because it is good for socializing with other people.,”*


  • Rachel Price said:

    actually, i do not like politics that much because it is a dirty job.-‘;


  • Anna Allen said:

    youth activities are always centered on enjoying the day and socializing with other teens`;.


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