Abuse of social media in election season

Abuse of social media in election season

What makes this year's election in Indonesia different from the one five years ago? The answer is the larger use of social media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

As the July 9 presidential election gets closer, both the presidential tickets of Joko "Jokowi" Widodo-Jusuf Kalla and Prabowo Subianto-Hatta Rajasa have used social media to share their views, update supporters on their weekly activities as well as influence first-time voters or swing voters.

Recently, many Twitter users have changed their profile pictures to show their support for a candidate, posting their pictures with "Number 1" for Mr Prabowo's camp or "Number 2" for Mr Joko's camp.

But this week, people's attention has been focused on an incident where activist and playwright Ratna Sarumpaet was accused of bullying Time correspondent Yenni Kwok.

Ms Ratna posted her comment on Twitter on Ms Kwok's report titled "This Indonesian Nazi video is one of the worst pieces of political campaigning ever", published by the magazine on June 25. The video was part of Mr Prabowo's campaign material and was made by musician Ahmad Dhani.

In her comment, Ms Ratna revealed the journalist's personal details and posted the latter's child's picture as well as accusing Ms Kwok of fabricating a survey by CNN.

Ms Kwok demanded that Ms Ratna delete her tweets.

"But stealing an FB photo of me and my kid and stating where I lived before is beyond bullying, @RatnaSpaet. Delete it or I will make a report," she wrote on her own account @yennikwok.

She said she would file a report with the police on Ms Ratna's racist slur on Twitter, although Ms Ratna said she deleted her posts.

The spat sparked public outrage.

The music video itself caused an international uproar as news outlets in the West deemed it as promoting Nazism.

In the video, a rip-off of the British band Queen's classic hit We Will Rock You, Dhani dons black paramilitary attire and holds a golden Garuda - Indonesia's national emblem - which looks like the German imperial eagle.

German news weekly Der Spiegel pointed out that Dhani's military costume was similar to the uniform worn by Schutzstaffel commander Heinrich Himmler, comparing photos of the two in photos.

Queen guitarist Brian May tweeted: "Of course, this is completely unauthorised by us."

When the video was first uploaded on Mr Prabowo's official Facebook page, the presidential candidate thanked Dhani and the other performers in the video.

Dhani, who is partly Jewish, said he had been misunderstood.

"If I wear a Star of David, then regular folks will call me a Zionist and when I wear a Nazi uniform then, these same folks will call me a fascist... Once a simpleton, always a simpleton," he said to his 1.35 million followers on Twitter.

A spokesman for Mr Prabowo's campaign team, Tantowi Yahya, said they had nothing to do with the video. "That's purely his (Dhani's) creativity," the spokesman said.

In another incident, irresponsible parties deliberately produced fake reports on a recent survey that Prabowo-Hatta was trumping Joko-Kalla in the popularity stakes, with 52 per cent of respondents supporting the former to win, over the latter's 41 per cent.

United States polling company Gallup - whose name was used in the survey - denied the report, which appeared on CNN online.

CNN pulled the post from its website.

Since social media was created as a mobile-based application, it is much easier for people to check updates through their gadgets - and it is so easy to abuse.

In Ms Ratna's case, uploading a minor's picture - though it was deleted afterwards - during a sensitive election campaign period and spreading someone's personal details could be seen as an act to endanger that person.

Smear campaigns are rampant in cyberspace, with the perpetrators hiding behind anonymous accounts. However, it is not easy to deal with social media, even if we have the Electronic Transaction and Information Law, which includes defamation.

The General Elections Commission (KPU) has said it cannot legally control election campaigning on social media.

It is too late to deal with social media control for this year's election.

But the next government, especially the KPU, could act on the issue and perhaps move to revise the Elections Law, to minimise the abuse of social media in election season and to have the perpetrators punished accordingly.

Social media can make or break someone's life so we must use it with full responsibility, not cowardly hide behind anonymous accounts while we verbally attack others.

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