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Hate speech is likely to intensify on social media ahead of Indonesia's election

The Conversation - January 28, 2024

Jati Savitri Sekargati – As Indonesia's general election draws closer, the spread of hate speech targeting political figures is expected to intensify, similar to what happened in the 2019 election.

The UN defines hate speech as any communication that attacks an individual or uses pejorative or discriminatory language against an individual based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent or gender.

During the 2019 election, there were more than 200,000 mentions on X containing hate speech targeted at the presidential, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, in addition to their vice presidential candidates.

That accounted for around 0.2% of the total election-related tweets in 2019. By comparison, hate speech accounted for between 0.1% and 0.3% of the one billion total election-related tweets during the US presidential election in 2016.

As part of my role as a fellow researcher for the Greater Internet Freedom (GIF) Harmful Speech Monitoring project, which is backed by the independent media nonprofit Internews, I believe a similar pattern will emerge before next month's Indonesia election based on my observations of social media platforms last June and July.

My research found at least 60 instances of hate speech (predominantly on X, formerly Twitter), with 45 of these messages containing political overtones. Several offensive comments were directed at the three presidential hopefuls – Prabowo, Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo. This happened even before the three were officially named as candidates by Indonesia's election commission.

Hate speech against presidential contenders on X

My research focuses on X because according to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies' National Survey Report, it contains the most disruptive information compared to other social platforms.

I used keyword and contextual analysis to identify hate speech in my research.

I used keywords like the politicians' names ("anies baswedan", "anies", "prabowo subianto", "prabowo", "ganjar pranowo", "ganjar"), as well as other common phrases like "pilpres" or "pemilihan presiden" (presidential election) and "pemilu 2024" (election 2024).

By August 31, 2023, the 60 hate speech posts I had identified had been shared 6,827 times on X, YouTube and TikTok.

One pseudonym account, for instance, posted hateful content about Ganjar being a liar and pornography addict. It was in response to Ganjar's statement in a YouTube podcast in 2019 that "there is nothing wrong with watching porn" and "I like it". The majority of Indonesians consider watching porn as morally unacceptable.

Another anonymous account spread negative sentiments about Prabowo, a former army general and the current defence minister, regarding his role in the purchase of used fighter jets, which lately sparked public criticism.

The posts used hashtags like #Prabohong #Bahaya (Prabowo is a liar and dangerous). Platform X then suspended the account because it violated the platform's hateful profile policy.

Anies, a popular former governor of Jakarta, was also targeted by hate speech on X. He was endorsed by hardline Islamist groups in his 2017 race for the governorship, which helped him win.

In July, a troll account with nearly 42,000 followers posted a one-minute video of Anies with several Muslim religious leaders at an event. The religious leaders mentioned Anies was the only governor in the world who received 65 awards in a year, which the account user said was a lie, using the hashtag #GubernurTukangNgibul (a lying governor).

The post received 42 comments, mostly expressing hate towards Anies.

Offline harms

What makes hate speech dangerous in Indonesia is it can lead to excessive acts of offline harm.

This can go as far as instigating or advocating for violence against civilians or engaging in other criminal operations.

In 2016, for example, hateful and religious-themed posts on social media against Jakarta gubernatorial candidate Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who is a Christian, turned into a massive rally in Jakarta by conservative Islamic groups. They demanded Ahok be jailed for defaming Islam. He was later sentenced to two years in prison for just that.

What we can do

Users can report posts and accounts violating X's violent and hateful content policies.

However, the platform must review and evaluate posts that are reported before acting. By the time X finally removes content, some content has already gone viral and gained public attention.

The government, civil rights organisations, nongovernmental organisations and social media platforms must work closely together to drive awareness of the issue in the lead-up to Indonesia's election next month.

To tackle hate speech and disinformation, they must cooperate in monitoring and analysing such content when it is flagged, identify the actors and root causes behind such content and formulate stronger regulations that protect victims.

[Jati Savitri Sekargati os a PhD candidate in media and journalism, Glasgow Caledonian University.]

Source: https://theconversation.com/hate-speech-is-likely-to-intensify-on-social-media-ahead-of-indonesias-election-21189