Social media in civil society— citizens in @ction

The Jakarta Post – OPINION, 30 April 2011
Yanuar Nugroho – MIOIR, Manchester
Shita Laksmi – HIVOS, Jakarta

Among many recent trends specifically in technology and civic engagement in Indonesia, two are highly salient.

One, statistics show convincingly that globally Indonesia ranks highly in terms of social media use, as home to the second-largest number of Facebook users (35.2 million) and as number four in terms of Twitter users (4.9 million). Undoubtedly, social media has become an inseparable part of life for many Indonesians.

Two, the blossoming of civic activism goes beyond the confinement of formal organizations that are organized around common interests and concerns, aiming at transforming some aspects of social life. This ranges from activism, as in the case of hundreds of thousands of people who backed Prita Mulyasari in her legal fight against Omni International Hospital, to the “Bike2Work” movement in many cities in Indonesia aiming at promoting healthier lifestyle whilst combating pollution.

Perhaps we can be fairly sure these two trends are closely related. See for example how the use of Facebook was significant in mobilizing support for Prita, or how the BlackBerry Messenger service is essential in organizing “Bike2Work” activities. But how did this relation emerge and evolve over time? Do we take for granted that the use of social media in civil society will always yield such activism?

These are questions that a joint research project undertaken by Hivos Southeast Asia and the University of Manchester aims to answer. We were observing the growth of the use of social media in civil society and ways in which social media plays a significant role in their work in contemporary Indonesia. The objective is to fill the gap in our practical and theoretical knowledge of the topic of social media and civil society.

Being exploratory, we included 258 groups in the survey and interviewed 35 respondents in addition to organizing two workshops during the course of the research. Most of them are part of the new wave of social movement groups as a result of the political openness of the post-New Order regime. They work on various issues such as environment, education and civil society empowerment, as well as human rights, development, democratization, wo-men/gender equality, children and youth, rural issues and poverty.

As expected in civil society activism, commitment and passion seem to be the most important driving factors. We found this across the cases; from a group in Bali that provides free media education to talented but poor children to a community of bloggers in Madura whose aim is to educate the public in writing their own story. Unsurprisingly, Facebook and Twitter are among the most used social media by civil society, followed by YouTube and Flickr.

This research perhaps does not reveal something extraordinary, but confirms how social media has been strategically used by civil society and influence the way they work. For example, AIMI-ASI (Indonesian Breastfeeding Mothers’ Association) develops its strategy in using different Internet and social media technologies depending on their purpose: Twitter for campaign and recruitment, mailing-list for consultation, Facebook for promotion, among others.

One quite interesting finding concerns the content. Some 35 percent of our respondents say that they provide more information than they access, while 49 percent has a balance between providing and accessing information. Arguably, this fact confronts what some scholars have suggested that Indonesian netters mostly download and take limited part in creating content (such as in Tjiek and Nugraha, 2009). At least, for civil society, they have been active in the content generation as well.

However despite this vibrant picture of civil society activism in Indonesia, infrastructure remains one of the big problems in Indonesia. Internet penetration in Indonesia is 12.5 percent of which 83 percent access it through Internet cafes or office, 22 percent mobile phone and 16 percent at home.

The latest report of the Indonesian Ministry of Information and Communication shows that, based on the National Census, 67 percent of the distribution of personal computer and 70.05 percent Internet access are concentrated in Java and Bali (in terms of ownership and access per household respectively) while other regions are largely left behind. Such disparities are also reflected in the spread of warnet (Internet cafe) — the most economical access point for people — which is still concentrated in big cities in major islands.

This leaves other region deprived in terms of access. For example, in Madura, our respondent from Plat-M, a blogger community, highlights that, “only upper class in Madura can have access to the Internet …. Only people who are educated can access the Internet. Maybe less than 105 Maduranese have access and use.” (Nurwahyu Alam, Plat M, interview October 2010).

We finally came to a conclusion that civil society is blossoming in Indonesia. The new political climate has allowed many bottom-up initiatives to grow. Bottom-up democracy necessitates a healthy civil society, where manifolds of social movements and civic engagements can express their interests.

This is the direction towards which the use of Internet and social media in civil society must be pursued. The ultimate aim is for the civil society to take an active part in the widening of the civic space in order to aim at wider societal changes.

This all requires an understanding that the use of social media in civil society is beyond technicality. Instead the focus should be the development of the agency’s capabilities, not only in using and appropriating technology but in building comprehension of the dynamics of civil society and a wider societal realm.

Yanuar Nugroho is a researcher at the University of Manchester. Shita Laksmi is interim director of Hivos Southeast Asia.


  1. Thursday, 9 August 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Mas Yanuar, terimakasih banyak untuk reportase ini, memang beresonansi dengan penelitian dan minat saya mempelajari peran medial sosial dalam pembangunan negara. Look forward to read more of your articles and findings. I am especially interested in deepening my knowledge about network theory, mapping, and analysis. I especially like your mapping of CSO’s in this article, I am wondering how many more CSOs out there that are left unmapped, outside the 250+ that you have put to paper in this map? Especially the “uncivil society” oriented ones, to borrow the term (contemporarily and especially FPI). I also find it interesting that there is by far only one big grouping of such CSO interactions, and judging from the even circle shape, that means the number of connectors among them are few and powerful. I’d love to learn more about this CSO mapping in the Indonesian context. Please let me know if there is any way I can also contribute to your work in this regard.

    jabat erat,


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