Thursday, June 21, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Crowdsourcing terror in Indonesia

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Crowdsourcing terror in Indonesia: Crowdsourcing terror in Indonesia In the wake of high-profile terrorist activities in Indonesia, social media’s role in violent extre...

Crowdsourcing terror in Indonesia

Crowdsourcing terror in Indonesia

In the wake of high-profile terrorist activities in Indonesia, social media’s role in violent extremism is once again under scrutiny. The 36-hour standoff on 8 May 2018 between inmates linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS) and prison officers at Mako Brimob (the detention centre of the Indonesian National Police Mobile Brigade on the outskirts of Jakarta) provides some clues on how extremists use social media, especially to ‘crowdsource’.

The term ‘crowdsourced terrorism’, whereby IS outsources the conduct of attacks to its followers and attempts to attract them to Syria, first emerged in 2014. Relevant cases include the knife attack in Leytonstone subway station in east London and the shooting in San Bernardino in the United States in December 2015. These events signalled what former US secretary of homeland security Jeh Johnson called an ‘entirely new phase in the global terrorist threat’.

Crowdsourcing refers to the open call for ideas, innovations and solutions from a large number of people. The driving force behind participation in crowdsourcing is the passion of a person or group of people who seek to contribute to a particular cause. Social media takes crowdsourcing to greater heights by allowing it to reach more people within a shorter amount of time. It also facilitates collaboration between individuals who are geographically distant.

The Brimob inmates broadcasted the standoff with prison officers through social media platforms. One inmate live-streamed a call for viewers to participate in jihad via Instagram, while showing a compatriot who had apparently died during the riot. Other videos showed the inmates posing with weapons seized from the police guards and pledging allegiance to IS. The IS-affiliated Amaq News Agency also picked up the story, and claimed responsibility while providing updates from the prison.

Viewers appear to have heeded the social media posts. On 10 May, a counterterror unit arrested four men who were suspected to have come from Tasikmalaya (five hours from Mako Brimob) to join the siege. Another man stabbed a Brimob officer in front of the detention centre soon after the end of the siege. The police also arrested two women for allegedly trying to stab police with scissors. These individuals claim that they were simply responding to calls on a Telegram channel to bring food to support the inmates.

The Mako Brimob siege shows the willingness of extremist sympathisers to provide manpower and material support, provided that they are aware of how they can do so. Social media enables extremist supporters to gain information on the location of and updates on a given incident through posts, geolocation technology and search functions.

While conventional crowdsourcing employs public social media platforms, private platforms such as Telegram support the development of close social networks that are united by their investment in a specific cause. Behavioural studies on crowdsourcing show that intrinsic motivations (such as a desire to expand friendship networks and a love of the cause) are more influential than outward motivations (such as financial rewards) in encouraging voluntary participation.

Until the Mako Brimob incident, few extremist sympathisers in Indonesia had responded to crowdsourcing in ways other than ideological agreement. Although some had translated ideological agreement to action, heeding the call to travel to Syria, very few instances of locally-conducted terrorist acts could be directly linked to social media posts. The Mako Brimob siege, however, shows that under certain conditions militants can use social media to crowdsource personnel and material resources on national soil. Crowdsourcing over social media most likely succeeded in the Mako Brimob incident because of the inmates’ unexpected triumph in holding the prison officers hostage and taking control over the building.

Proposed solutions to prevent extremists from exploiting social media are struggling to keep up with current events. Encryption has become a point of legal contention between technology companies and security services in several countries, including Indonesia. Intelligence agencies in the United States are demanding that technology companies build backdoors to their encrypted apps that would allow authorities to monitor online communication and obtain chat transcripts. Apple famously rejected the FBI’s request for access to the chat histories of the San Bernardino attackers in 2016.

Indonesia’s communications ministry blocked access to Telegram in July 2017 on the grounds that it was hosting extremist materials and facilitating the planning and coordination of terrorist attacks. After the terrorist attacks in Surabaya in May 2018, the ministry reported that it had removed as many as 3195 terrorist-related pieces of content from social media platforms.

Technology companies have pledged to work harder to remove terrorist-related content from their platforms. Telegram agreed to block extremist-related content and to create a team of Indonesian culture and language specialists to evaluate online material more accurately. Google has promised to step up monitoring of terrorist content on its video-sharing site YouTube.

But the efficacy of such moves is uncertain. The spontaneity of user-generated content means that its removal by social media platforms tends to be too slow. Technology companies typically rely on user reporting to identify extremist content, which is then relayed to human reviewers who decide whether the content violates the platform’s policies. This process means that social media platforms can take anywhere between a few hours to weeks to take down problematic content, which may have been reposted on other platforms by then. Although some companies have begun using artificial intelligence to identify and take down extremist content, the technology is far from perfect.

The battle against extremism must be taken beyond social media platforms. Reforms must start from within national legal, penal and law enforcement systems, and involve tackling issues such as corruption, overcrowding in prison facilities and inmate access to mobile phones.

Jennifer Yang Hui is an Associate Research Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: New millennial party rebrands Indonesia’s predator...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: New millennial party rebrands Indonesia’s predator...: New millennial party rebrands Indonesia’s predatory politics The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), a new participant in Indonesia’s ...

New millennial party rebrands Indonesia’s predatory politics

New millennial party rebrands Indonesia’s predatory politics

The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), a new participant in Indonesia’s electoral landscape set to contest the 2019 national election, is grabbing the attention of Indonesian political watchers. Labelled the ‘millennials’ party’, PSI sees itself as the most promising political vehicle for young people in Indonesia. Its cadres are youths purportedly dissociated from old interest groups.

PSI is one of many parties over time that have claimed ‘reformist’ status in Indonesia. But is this new party really very different from those that currently dominate the Indonesian political scene?

Support for PSI is bolstered by some scholars who see PSI as a distinctly new political vehicle that is detached from the old guards of Indonesian politics. This interpretation of PSI relies on actor-based explanations for new political possibilities in Indonesia, as advocated primarily by William Liddle. Such possibilities emerge when an individual in the political arena ‘consciously creates, possesses and deploys political resources’.

Liddle is an academic mentor of Saiful Mujani, whose organisation Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting has deep ties to PSI. Unsurprisingly, researchers from this organisation build on the positive interpretation of PSI and praise the methods used by the party to recruit young activists and professionals. They see PSI’s youth-based approach as a promising way to challenge political cartelism and confront the oligarchy in Indonesia.

Such interpretations of PSI disregard the political and economic structures that influence the behaviour of political actors in Indonesia. Broader constraints, particularly the culture of predatory politics nurtured under Suharto’s New Order regime and reproduced in the current democratic setting, are overlooked.

Scholars of Indonesian politics who emphasise actor-based explanations for political phenomena perceived President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) victory in 2014 to be a promising moment that would bring Indonesia into a new and better era of democracy. But soon enough the old guards were named as part of Jokowi’s cabinet. The Jokowi administration has also introduced tougher measures to suppress freedom of expression and freedom of thought in Indonesia.

Jokowi’s experience confirms that relying on ‘autonomous actors’ without addressing the predatory nature of Indonesian politics is inadequate to bring change to the country’s political landscape. For this reason, it is likely that PSI and its cadres will operate in much the same way as the older parties. Such tendencies are indeed already evident.

Recent research shows that all Indonesian political parties are ideologically alike. Their political and economic orientation tends to be centre-right.

No clear economic orientation has been put forward by PSI. But given their support for most of Jokowi’s programs, PSI seems to want economic growth and is pro-market — much like Indonesia’s other parties. The party’s show of support for ex-Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) also suggests a centre-right leaning economic focus. Ahok was known for favouring the interests of the middle class, evidenced by his massive eviction policies and his Jakarta Bay reclamation plan.

PSI’s political vision is one that claims to promote liberal ideas. But anti-LGBT statements from a PSI cadre in Depok contradict this image. PSI’s show of support for the new mass organisation law that restricts freedom of expression and for the tougher anti-terrorism law that extends state power over citizens also shatter such claims.

Attempts by the party to ride on the popularity of the Nahdlatul Ulama-affiliated Ansor Youth Movement (GP Ansor) to take advantage of its limited support among youths demonstrate PSI’s opportunism. GP Ansor and its militia wing Banser are known for their use of violence — they participated in the mass killings of 1965. Praise and support for such groups is not a far stretch from the embrace of vigilantism that has been a part of Indonesian politics for some time.

The presence of Sunny Tanuwidjaja and Jeffrie Geovanie on the party’s board of advisors — both closely linked to oligarchic alliances — also seems to suggest that PSI is just like the clientelist parties of old. Geovanie has a reputation for being a party-hopping politician but is currently playing a central role in PSI’s activities. He not only funds the party but also ‘lends’ office space. PSI claims that it relies on donations to fund its operations and has promised to publish a financial report. But such a report has never been published.

Many of PSI’s activities seem impossible to conduct through crowdfunding alone. These activities include the establishment of new offices in all provinces, the organisation of national meetings in luxurious venues, and the advertisement of the party and its cadres in several types of media. The Indonesian political arena is dominated by clientelism and predation, and candidates need large sums of money to compete and win a seat in parliament.

PSI is already indistinguishable from the older Indonesian political parties. PSI’s main targets are millennials, but its politics seem to serve only the interests of the middle class. Meanwhile, lower class millennials prefer to engage with various vigilante groups that more directly address their subsistent needs. PSI targets this segment of the youth too, but in a way that maintains conservatism and vigilantism through the support of groups like GP Ansor. Hopes that PSI will provide a truly democratic alternative for young Indonesians seem wildly naive.

Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir is a PhD candidate in politics at the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: The East Java Gubernatorial Race: Dead Heat But No...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: The East Java Gubernatorial Race: Dead Heat But No...: The East Java Gubernatorial Race: Dead Heat But Non-Controversial – Analysis While the East Java gubernatorial election remains one o...

The East Java Gubernatorial Race: Dead Heat But Non-Controversial – Analysis

The East Java Gubernatorial Race: Dead Heat But Non-Controversial – Analysis

While the East Java gubernatorial election remains one of the most significant regional-level leadership races in Indonesia this year, campaigns had been orderly and free of controversy. Only a few hot-button issues that have plagued other races are present within the region.

The East Java gubernatorial election can be considered one of the most pivotal races in the 2018 simultaneous local election cycle. The province is the second largest in the country, with a population of 42 million and contributing 14.8 percent to total GDP.

East Java is thus significant both economically and politically, and an important factor amongst candidates positioning themselves for the 2019 Indonesian general election less than a year away. So who are the leading contenders in this race?

The Aspirants

Two candidates are competing to replace Soekarwo, the incumbent governor who has served two consecutive five-year terms. The first one is Saifullah Yusuf, the province’s deputy governor. His running mate is Puti Guntur Soekarno, a granddaughter of Indonesia’s founding president Soekarno.

They are backed by a coalition of parties, including the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) of former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, the National Awakening Party (PKB) affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) of Prabowo Subianto and the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

The second one is Khofifah Indar Parawansa, the former minister of Social Affairs under President Joko Widodo. Her running mate is Emil Dardak, the 34-year old former regent of Trenggalek, a rural region in the southern part of the province. The pair is supported by a coalition consisting of the once-ruling Golkar Party, the Democrat Party (PD) of former president Yudhoyono, and the National Mandate Party (PAN) among others.

Popular support for the Saifullah/Puti pair is largely based on personal and familial ties. Saifullah is the grandson of Hasyim Asy’ari, founder of NU, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation. Hence, he seeks support largely from NU clerics and Muslims who affiliated themselves with NU, whose membership is approximately two-thirds of the East Java population. Madam Puti and the PDI-P are banking on her family lineage stemming from the Soekarno name to win electoral support in the province.

Meanwhile, the Khofifah/Emil pair generally tends towards emphasising a combination of professional image and Islamic credentials. Madam Khofifah uses her positions as a long-time Head of Muslimat ̶ NU’s women’s wing ̶ to seek support from female Muslim voters. Emil, on his part, touts his business background and experience as Trenggalek regent from 2014 to 2018, during which period he won national recognition as one of the best local executives in Indonesia.

National & Regional Trends

One important insight we gathered from our research in East Java is that national-level political patterns and constellations may not have a direct effect on regional-level elections, given the nature of local politics and rivalries between political parties within similar coalitions.

In East Java, while the Saifullah Yusuf/Puti Guntur Soekarno is officially supported by Gerindra, representatives of the party we spoke to made it clear the party only supports Saifullah as its nominee as East Java governor. It does not support Madam Puti’s appointment to be his running mate, given that she comes from PDI-P.

As such the party does not spend much time and resources in their gubernatorial campaigns, preferring to focus on next year’s presidential election instead. Hence, even though both Gerindra and PDI-P are formally in the same gubernatorial coalition, communication between the two rivals are few and far between.

A similar phenomenon can also be seen in the Khofifah Indah Parawansa/Emil Dardak campaign. The Democrat Party seems not to devote much resources to the campaign, in contrast to the Golkar Party, the pair’s chief sponsor. It seems that the former only supports them because it wants to retain its status as the second largest faction in the East Java legislature. Much of the Democrats’ resources are devoted to the 2019 regional legislative election, not to the gubernatorial election itself.

Identity and Business-Politics Relations

Unlike other local races, identity politics do not play a big role in the East Java gubernatorial election. Since both Saifullah and Khofifah are senior cadres of NU, no ethno-religious issues are expressed during the campaign as NU generally promotes a moderate and tolerant interpretation of Islam.

The influence of conservative Muslim organisations like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) is relatively minimal in this election. Muslim-based parties like PKS, PAN, and the Crescent and Star Party (PBB) tend to focus their attention on the national legislative and presidential elections rather than the gubernatorial race.

Regarding the relationship between business and politics, our research has shown that business groups are pragmatic and prefer a candidate who supports investment-friendly policies in East Java province, something that Soekarwo – the outgoing governor – had provided during his decade-long tenure as the province’s chief executive. However, neither candidates have provided significant outreach to business groups or demonstrate their commitment towards investment-friendly policies.

It can thus be seen that most business groups are adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach and are watching closely for signs from several business conglomerates like property developers Ciputra and Pakuwon Jati Groups, and regional manufacturers like Maspion Group, for cues on which candidate they would support in this election.

Non-controversial Race

The East Java gubernatorial race is considered to be one of the most significant electoral races among this year’s regional executive elections due to its population size and political impact. However, the campaign itself is free from controversy, and in fact, very orderly as most parties and interest groups are devoting their resources toward the 2019 general election.

There are minor contentions such as accusations from the Khofifah/Emir campaign that local civil servants are implicitly backing the Saifullah/Puti campaign, even though they were supposed to be neutral in the race. However, these are a far cry from the controversies that had surrounded the Jakarta gubernatorial elections in 2017.

A recent survey by the large-circulating Kompas daily showed the Khofifah/Emir pair slightly ahead of Saifullah/Puti, with a margin of 48 to 45 percent. The closeness of the margin indicates that the two candidates are in a dead heat, as none of the candidates can distinguish themselves as a clear alternative to their opponent.

*Alexander R Arifianto PhD
is a Research Fellow and Jonathan Chen is an Associate Research Fellow with the Indonesia Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. This is part of a series on Indonesia’s simultaneous regional elections.