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JAKARTA – ndonesian President Joko Widodo’s Twitter account, @jokowi_do2, has been dormant since August 24 last year. It looks like the president ignored congratulatory tweets sent the day of his inauguration from the likes of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian counterpart Tony Abbott.
Fair enough, maybe, given that he had his hands taking over the reins of the world’s third-largest democracy, its fourth-largest country overall and its tenth-largest economy. He and his team really do have more to do than reply to social media messages, even to those from fellow world leaders. And yet … the Twitter silence did come across as churlish, if not plain undiplomatic.
It also comes across as incongruous, given that Widodo, who goes by his nickname Jokowi, had previously exhorted colleagues to make frequent use of social media. Indeed, since taking office he has promoted a gimmicky-sounding “e-blusukan”, meant as an online version of his trademark blusukan walkabouts to markets where he showcases his man-of-the-people persona and listens to the gripes of shoppers and street vendors.
Twitter reports that 95 million election-related tweets were posted in Indonesia last year, with July’s presidential poll branded “Indonesia’s first Twitter election” by social media evangelists.
A tweet urging voters to back Widodo, posted by Denny Januar Ali, founder of the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) polling institute, ended up the second most retweeted globally in 2014, with over a million retweets.
And just as many of Widodo’s supporters took to social media to bolster what had been a tepid, chaotic campaign in which Widodo saw a double-digit poll lead whittled to almost nothing, that was also due to rival Prabowo Subianto’s side going viral in their own way.
Social media platforms nearly went into meltdown in the weeks before and after the July 7 election, in which Widodo eventually beat Prabowo Subianto, a former army general whose campaign was part-funded by billionaire brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo.
Part of Hashim’s campaign largesse went to maintaining a staff of around 70 keyboard and touchscreen warriors, whose job is it was to post on Prabowo’s Twitter and Facebook pages, keep an eye out for what the rival camp was posting and reply in turn.
Such belligerent tactics prompted a response, however, and after Widodo’s clear win, which Prabowo bitterly contested, a network of IT boffins and social media addicts teamed up to post polling results to counter efforts by the Prabowo team to muddy the result.
Indonesia has an estimated 70 million Facebook accounts and around 30 million Twitterers, and other platforms such as Path and Instagram are surging in popularity. Jakarta, long infamous for its world-beating traffic jams, more recently celebrated being dubbed “the world’s Twitter capital”.
All of which makes Widodo’s social media silence seem all the more unusual. And there’s more. Not only did Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg visit Indonesia late in 2014, meeting Widodo in Jakarta, Twitter only last week opened an office in Jakarta, with CEO Dick Costolo meeting Vice-President Jusuf Kalla as Widodo was in China and Japan on official visits. Facebook and Google already have offices in Indonesia.
That’s not to say the entire government has gone all gaptek, local slang for an IT or social media novice. Communications and Information Minister Rudiantara sees Twitter as useful for spreading real-time information on disasters, while the office of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in January asked city residents to tweet tips about the seasonal flooding that sluices the capital most years, using the hashtag #banjir (Indonesian for flood).
Widodo has come under fire in social media for aspects of his presidency so far, with critics and supporters alike lambasting his perceived indecision after Indonesia’s unloved national police filed charges against leaders of the country’s popular Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), which had branded Widodo’s nominee for new police chief a corruption suspect.
Widodo’s electoral success had partly been down to his own clean image and his anti-graft rhetoric, so it is little wonder, perhaps, that Widodo has kept his own fingers off the “send” button as millions of Indonesians weigh in, often using hashtags such as #SaveKPK and #Shameonyoujokowi.Show