Monday, January 18, 2016

Indonesia Needs More Than Hashtags to Defy Terror

A man wearing Darth Vader costume holds a placard while standing in front of a Starbucks cafe, the scene of Thursday's gun and bomb attack, in Jakarta, Indonesia Jan. 15, 2016. Indonesian police arrested three suspected militants in a pre-dawn raid and hunted down others across the country on Friday, a day after an attack by Islamic State suicide bombers and gunmen in the heart of the Southeast Asian nation's capital. The banner reads, "Indonesia is not afraid." (Reute
People were commenting on social media within moments of the terrorist bombings and shooting on Thursday in Jakarta by attackers linked to Islamic State (IS).

Two popular hashtags emerged on Twitter and Facebook: #PrayForJakarta and #KamiTidakTakut, which translates as “We are not afraid.”

The Pray-for-something hashtag is a common phrase on social media to show concern and sympathy. Following the terrorist attack in Paris, #PrayForParis was also popular on social media.

The hashtag #KamiTidakTakut, which has been used by more than 100,000 people a day since the attack, has a tone of defiance against terrorism. We can see this in comments and memes using the hashtag.

International media reported on Indonesians' defiant reaction. But how effective is the response on social media in countering the goal of terrorists?

What does #KamiTidakTakut mean?

Social media users in Indonesia are mostly urban middle class, according to a study by the University of Indonesia’s Centre for Communication Studies and Indonesian Internet Service Providers Association.

Thus, the hashtag #KamiTidakTakut reflects the attitude of urban middle-class Indonesians, not the general public. In reality, Indonesians have diverse attitudes toward extremist groups, ranging from feeling apathetic to being on guard to being afraid.

Social media users in Indonesia tend to use it to follow trends. Their use of social media does not always reflect their real daily lives or connect with the goals they want to achieve.

They move from one issue to another very quickly. Most netizens don’t continuously campaign for a cause on social media to inspire action in real life.

It’s not surprising, then, that after #PrayForJakarta and #KamiTidakTakut, the next hashtags that became trending topics are #KamiNaksir (We have a crush) and #PolisiGanteng (Handsome Police), which commented on the good looks of police at the scene.

The general social media users in Indonesia come from diverse backgrounds. They are free agents, not affiliated with each other as a group or strongly connected to the cause they support using hashtags. Therefore it’s not easy to carry out a serious civil-society-based counter-terrorism movement online.

It’s difficult, for example, to define what Twitter users meant with #KamiTidakTakut and what kind of activities can be a manifestation of it either in cyberspace or in real life. Therefore, aside from visiting the terror scene when it was safe to do so, it is not clear what else #KamiTidakTakut supporters would do to continue to campaign against terrorism.

Effective use of social media by terrorist groups

Radical groups also use social media to promote their movement.

The terrorist groups are fighting in two arenas: the online and real world. While their main battlefield is in the real world, their social media campaign helps them achieve their goals. The issues they convey on social media can be diverse but still within the frame of their cause.

Extremists use social media to communicate, spread their propaganda and recruit members. These recruits are usually young. Social media users in Indonesia are on average between the ages of 18 and 25.

In the real world, perpetrators of terror are individuals who are part of a network of groups. They share a very strong commitment to their cause. It’s not hard for them to organize, either online or in real life, people in their circle to carry out activities for their cause.

Hashtags activism is not enough

By comparing their ongoing commitment and impact, it’s clear that terrorist groups are more effective at using social media as a tool for their movement compared to general social media users, particularly the followers of #KamiTidakTakut.

Defiant hashtags do send a message of defiance to terrorist groups and inspire people to denounce terrorism.

But hashtags are not enough. If people really want to create a social movement to counter terrorism, we should expand our reach offline.

We should continuously work to oppose extremism by creating debate on relevant issues, such as on the meaning of jihad. That means we would have to engage with religious leaders. People would have to organize themselves to counter terrorism in real life, outside the online sphere.

Otherwise, #KamiTidakTakut will only be an online rhetoric that ends with absurd hashtags such as #KamiNaksir and #PolisiGanteng.

Andi Rahman Alamsyah is a lecturer in sociology at University of Indonesia.


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