Nur Yasmin, Jakarta – As Prabowo Subianto holds his ground and refuses to concede defeat in the presidential election, his supporters are rallying for him by trending hashtags on social media.
Even before pollsters started calling the election for incumbent Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, pro-Prabowo hashtags #kawalkotaksuara ("watch the ballot boxes"), #JanganPercayaLembagaSurveiTV ("don't believe pollsters on TV") and #IniCurang ("this is cheating") were already trending nationwide.
The hashtags insinuated there have been conspiracies and massive vote tampering to make sure Prabowo lose the election.
Most quick count results are showing that 54 percent of the votes went to Jokowi, giving him a substantial lead that in normal conditions would be enough for a rival to concede.
These, however, are not normal times. The Prabowo camp has been feeding their supporters with conspiratorial narratives for months, which recently included seven containers of tampered ballots coming in from China for Jokowi, or foreigners being given invitations to vote for the incumbent.
The objective seems to be to create distrust with the election and, if necessary, to overturn the result.
Senior politician Amien Rais, a key ally of the former Army general, even threathened "people power" at the slightest hint of voting fraud.
Ismail Fahmi, the founder of Drone Emprit Indonesia, an organization that has been monitoring election coverage on social media, said the hashtags were a continuation of recent narratives fed by the Prabowo camp.
"The intense conversations about Prabowo on social media are a form of resistance [from his supporters], a counter-narrative to the narrative built by the quick counts," Ismail told the Jakarta Globe.
In less than 24 hours since the election, Prabowo has called three press conferences. Each time he repeated his lack of trust at the quick counts and then claimed victory for himself.
Trending topics reflect support base
Ismail said people seem to talk more about Prabowo than about Jokowi on social media because most of Jokowi's voters live in villages. "These [village voters] tend to favor Jokowi. They are also more confident and unshakeable in their belief," he said.
Pro-Prabowo hashtags are trending, Ismail said, because there are more real pro-Prabowo social media accounts than pro-Jokowi ones.
"If we break them down, conversations about Jokowi are produced by machines, bots, spam accounts. There are more real social media users [that start conversations] about Prabowo. His supporters are more militant," Ismail said.
To be a worldwide trending topic on Twitter, a large number of the tweets must be from real users. "If the tweets are made by bots, they might still create a trending topic, but just for Indonesia and only for a moment," Ismail said.
He said the percentage of spam tweets about the election was over 30 percent. His data showed Jokowi was leading the social media conversations until the third or fourth presidential debate.
"There were more conversations about Jokowi and Ma'ruf Amin than about Prabowo and Sandiaga Uno [Prabowo's billionaire running mate], it's only recently that Prabowo has been trending more," Ismail said.
"So it's not true that Prabowo is leading social media conversations. There are actually more conversations about Jokowi because he uses spam accounts. But Prabowo attracted more real tweets from his militant supporters. And there are a lot of them, even now," Ismail said.
Virtual world vs. real world results
Still, Ismail said there has been little correlation between trends on social media and results in the real world, as Wednesday's election has proved.
"Voters in villages don't know about the cyberspace, they only watch TV. TV stations mostiy show positive news about Jokowi, more than they do about Prabowo. That has a real impact too," Ismail said.
Ismail referred to an Alvara research that suggests the more internet-literate people are, the more likely they are to become undecided or swing voters.
"Information travels so fast on social media. Every day there are new issues that can make people doubt and leave them undecided. But eventually, the people who are internet-literate lose to those who aren't," Ismail said.
According to a survey by Indonesian Internet Service Providers Association (APJII), only 143 million out of 262 million Indonesians (54.68 percent) use the internet.
"This illustrates how information is built and spread in the virtual world," he said of trending topics on social media.
Ismail said social media will remain relevant in Indonesia, but the fact is now people who are internet-illiterate and less educated still get most of their information from television.
"I think both television and the internet are important in Indonesia. In the next presidential election in 2024, candidates should draw an accurate social and traditional media map of potential voters and adjust themselves accordingly," Ismail said.