Slander and Unity: The Year Online in Indonesia
2009 will be remembered as the year of social media worldwide, but especially in Indonesia. Social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter went from niche to mainstream, while smartphone usage skyrocketed.
This was the year when Indonesia began to confront the tricky questions raised by giving everyone a voice — or at least everyone with internet access. It was a year marked by controversy over online flirting and camera phone pictures, by defamation lawsuits and Facebook campaigns, and by a national and international outpouring of support in the wake of the Jakarta bombings.
The online world is not a separate place. Although the events below involved the internet, they were hardly virtual. Indonesia ends the decade in the midst of a profound transformation in the way its citizens communicate.
There are over one million Indonesian Facebook users.
January 5: Communication and Information Technology Minister Muhammad Nuh says he “will not get in the way of candidates who use information and communication technology for their campaigns.” He’s trying to be encouraging.
March 3: The Jakarta Globe performs its first “twitterview“, of “photo-blogger, Web-designer, fashion-lover, dancer, undergrad and vegan” Icha.
March 20: Apple’s iPhone hits the shops in Jakarta. True geeks have been using black market models for several years, but now anyone with Rp 2.6 million to spare can own one legally.
There are over three million Indonesian Facebook users.
April 1: A rogue journalist from the online news portal Okezone posts a message on Facebook saying that embattled General Elections Commission chairman Abdul Hafiz Anshary is resigning. It’s not true, but within hours three TV stations have showed up outside the Commission office to cover the “announcement.”
May 21: An association of Indonesian clerics expresses concern about the use of Facebook by students under the age of 17, warning that it can be used for flirting.
May 25: The same clerics clarify that Facebook is haram (forbidden) only when used for “flirting and gossiping”, and admit that they themselves use it.
June 3: Housewife Prita Mulyasari is released from jail after hundreds of thousands join Facebook pages in support of her cause. She was arrested on May 13 after writing an email criticizing her treatment at Omni International Hospital.
June 30: The co-founder of independent news network KBR-68H reminds everyone that internet access is still very limited in Indonesia, saying that old-fashioned radio is still the “cheapest and most flexible” way to reach a wide audience.
There are over six million Indonesian Facebook users.
July 3: The Indonesian government tells Canadian Blackberry manufacturer Research In Motion that they have until July 15 to open service centers in Indonesia, or face a ban on sales. A great wail arises from those who don’t already own one of the popular smartphones.
July 8: Indonesian tweeting and blogging about the presidential election reaches its peak.
July 8: Police in Bogor say they’re going to charge a teenage girl with defamation after an online argument with another girl. It’s about a boy, of course.
July 20: The bombings of the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels in Jakarta are first reported on Twitter. Indonesians unite online under the topic #IndonesiaUnite, which is the most the most popular tag on Twitter globally for three days, beating out the Iran election, Michael Jackson’s death, and Paula Abdul’s epochal withdrawal from “American Idol.”
August 31: Indonesian software company Domikado begins offering Indonesian news, movies, and financial information to Blackberry users. The application is downloaded 30,000 times in the first week.
There are over nine million Indonesian Facebook users.
September 10: Omni International Hospital is still suing Prita Mulyasari, with an expert witness testifying that her email was “defamatory.”
October 19: After a year of huge growth in smartphone sales, Indonesia has nine million mobile web users. There are about 500,000 Blackberry users, as compared to only 90,000 iPhone users. Jakarta traffic only gets worse as people stop looking at the road.
October 29: Graduate student Usman Yasin launches “The Movement of One Million Facebookers to Support Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Riyanto” after the two anticorruption chiefs are arrested. The Facebook group grows rapidly and is frequently cited by local and international media as an indication of public support for the Corruption Eradication Commission in its faceoff with the National Police and Attorney General’s Office.
November 7: “The Movement of One Million Facebookers to Support Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Riyanto” exceeds one million fans.
November 8: Would-be smartphone owners line up around the block for the launch of the Nexian phone in Indonesia. At Rp 600,000 ($63), it’s about a third of the price of the cheapest Blackberry model.
November 18: “Justice must not bow to pressure just because the defendant has support from so many Facebookers or whatever,” says a prosecutor in the Prita Mulyasari case.
November 30: Two people commit suicide by jumping over the railings at Jakarta malls. The deaths are reported first through Twitter. The unrestrained and sometimes inaccurate Twitter content raises questions about the role of social media in covering news events.
December 7: Barely a week after the Banten High Court had
upholds a fine of Rp
204 million ($21,400) fine in the civil case against Prita, her online fans have pledged 80% of the amount. The cash is collected by volunteers around the country, in coins.
December 13: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono joins Twitter as PRESIDEN_RI. Within 24 hours he has more than 1,000 followers. Initially he follows celebrities such as Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian, but quickly removes them as Indonesians comment about it online.
December 16: Luna Maya twitters that entertainment reporters are “lower than prostitutes,” insulting both groups. The police consider charging her for defamation, and the case sparks discussion about the limits of free speech online.
December 23: Donations from Prita’s supporters surpass Rp 650m in 170 sacs of coins, more than three times her fines. Prita says she will use the money to help others with similar problems.
December 29: Prita Mulyasari is cleared of all charges in the criminal case against her.