The networkers of outrage: a demographic survey of Indonesian Twitter activists
(King's College London)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores Twitter protest during a nationwide political controversy about Indonesia’s local direct elections. Drawing on novel survey data, it analyzes geo-demographic and socioeconomic determinants of political Twitter use and evaluates Twitter’s impact on Indonesia’s democracy.
Paper long abstract:
The influence of social media on democratization is contested in contemporary social theory. While 'cyber-utopians' welcome social media as bottom-up technology and democratizing force, skeptics point to the unequal access to and the shallowness of online engagement. This debate is particularly relevant to emerging economies where social media use is highly demographically unrepresentative. The present paper analyses Twitter protest in the context of an electoral franchise bill passed in Indonesia in 2014 which, temporarily, abolished the country's direct local elections. A related hashtag campaign propelled into Twitter's globally 'trending topics' and contributed to the subsequent legal annulment of the bill. The paper draws on a novel dataset from a large online survey of participants in this campaign in order to explore the geo-demographic and socioeconomic determinants of Indonesian Twitter protest. Furthermore, the paper evaluates the importance of this protest for the resilience of Indonesia's young democracy. The research finds that Twitter protesters were composed of an urban middle-class population with above-average levels of education, suggesting a digital 'class divide' in Indonesian online activism. It detects a significant overrepresentation of young and male users. Twitter engagement struggled to translate into higher-commitment activism while, nonetheless, proving politically powerful. These findings, paradoxically, lend plausibility to both techno-utopian and techno-pessimist interpretations. Implications for future research are discussed.
Power, politics and digital development [Information, Technology and Development Study Group]