Freedom to Hate: Social Media, Algorithmic Enclaves, and the Rise of Tribal Nationalism in Indonesia

Sometimes, when emotion runs high, I take a really long walk, daydream, debate with myself, and then write a lot. Oh well, probably “write a lot” needs to be expanded to: sleep, write, write, write, sleep, sleep, sleep :-D. My latest article article was produced in one of such moments. Of course, this situation is neither an aberration nor a norm.  It is just it is.  Some other times,  I just sulk & watch a lot of Netflix movies or bang mellow songs on the piano & depress my office-mates ;-). Or just sleep a lot. Eh, not true. I do sleep a lot whether emotion runs low, high, or in-between. In sleep I trust, indeed ;-D

So, here is the article. As you can tell from its title, it’s a gloomy article.

Lim, M. (2017). Freedom to Hate: Social Media, Algorithmic Enclaves, and the Rise of Tribal Nationalism in Indonesia. Critical Asian Studies.…/…/10.1080/14672715.2017.1341188


Empirically grounded in the 2017 Jakarta Gubernatorial Election (Pilkada DKI) case, this article discusses the relationship of social media and electoral politics in Indonesia. There is no doubt that sectarianism and racism played significant roles in the election and social media, which were heavily utilized during the campaign, contributed to the increasing polarization among Indonesians. However, it is misleading to frame the contestation among ordinary citizens on social media in an oppositional binary, such as democratic versus undemocratic forces, pluralism versus sectarianism, or rational versus racist voters. Marked by the utilization of volunteers, buzzers, and micro-celebrities, the Pilkada DKI exemplifies the practice of post-truth politics in marketing the brand. While encouraging freedom of expression, social media also emboldens freedom to hate, where individuals exercise their right to voice their opinions while actively silencing others. Unraveling the complexity of the relationship between social media and electoral politics, I suggest that the mutual shaping between users and algorithms results in the formation of “algorithmic enclaves” that, in turn, produce multiple forms of tribal nationalism. Within these multiple online enclaves, social media users claim and legitimize their own versions of nationalism by excluding equality and justice for others.

KEYWORDS: Social media, Indonesia, electoral politics, algorithm, nationalism.

I am fortunate that, unlike most academic publications, the production of this article took such a short time. I started researching for this article (collecting data and analyzing) during the campaign. My first phase of writing process took place in November 2017 2016, while leading a writing bootcamp for graduate students, where I wrote the first 3,000 words. The rest of the article were written in the second and third phases whose time was stolen from one depressing day at the end of March 2017 and  my European speaking tour in end of April/early May 2017. In March 2017, the editor of the journal had already notified me that if I submitted the final manuscript by mid of May, it’d go through an expedited process. I did submit my manuscript while travelling in Spain on May 19th and since then it went through reviews, copyedits, and copy-proofs in a lightning speed. The process was intense and exhilarating! I am so grateful for the opportunity.

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