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Extremist Social Media use in Indonesia (research analysis)

This research analysis focuses on the use of social media in Indonesia by extremists. Young people are increasingly being recruited through Facebook and Twitter to join their movement. This piece will illustrate that in the same way that social media can be used to spread hate it can be used to promote tolerance.

How is social media used in this context?

Indonesia is one of the world’s most populous countries with over 242 million people. It also has the largest Muslim population in the world living within its territory. It is estimated that one in four citizens have access to Facebook; this is mainly because phones in Indonesia are cheap and have fast internet connections. Muhammad Najib, an Indonesia parliamentarian stated that “a huge amount of fundamentalist communications comes through Facebook and Twitter. This is a new generation, all holding a mobile phone.”

Young people are increasingly being contacted by terrorists via social media for recruitment. Social media sites such as Facebook and twitter are some of the tools terrorists use to expand their criminal activity according to the Indonesian police. Other tools discovered by the police include online games, propaganda videos on Youtube and video calls used to purchase weapons.

Over the past few years the use of social media by extremists for communication, training and online fundraising has increased. Interestingly enough women have an important role in this sort of organization as they help to create alliances through arranged marriages, serving as couriers to contact members in prison, and carrying out business to support organisations financially.

The Indonesian government has recognized that governmental institutions are vitally important in countering terrorism and established the National Anti-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) in 2010, and heightened police roles.

What are documented cases of radicalisation through social media?

Petrus Reinhard Golose, director of operations at BNPT mentioned an interesting case where social media was used for extremist purposes: “in the Marriott bombing of 2009, the suicide bomber was monitored by his group via video call out of fear that he would change his mind.”

Surya Saputra, a senior policeman in Bogor, Indonesia, stated that the most recent terrorist acts, such as the 2010 attack on the police in Solo and the 2011 bombing of the Cirebon police mosque, were organized through the internet. He also mentioned that: “some jihadist websites even provide information in Bahasa Indonesia [Indonesian language] on cyber-military training, so people don’t have to fly all the way to Afghanistan or the Philippines anymore”.

Social media and mobile phone texts can also be used to spread misleading information. In September 2011 rumours broke out that Christians captured and tortured a Muslim motorcyclist taxi driver to death in Ambon, Indonesia. This led to widespread anger, with vehicles and houses vandalised after the rumour had spread by phone messages, Facebook and Twitter. Seven people died as a result; in reality the motorcyclist had died in a traffic accident. After this rumour spread, sites such as, a website funded by a leader of Islamist terrorist organization Jemmah Islamiyah (JI), started to display messages asking for additional fighters and better weapons.

A few days later in another city a Christian man with mental problems stabbed three people. Again, rumours spread by social media claimed that attacks against Muslims were being organized. In retaliation a large group of Muslims started stopping and interrogating drivers on a main street about their religion and the reason for their travelling. Two Christians were stabbed and over 1000 people went to a police school for protection to avoid the anti-Christian attacks that never happened.

How is social media used to counter terrorism:

In the same way that extremists use social media to spark anger and organize attacks, civil society groups are countering violence on social media as well. An example of these groups is the multi-religious group, called Provocateurs for Peace led by Pastor Jacky Manuputty who have started using phone messages and social media to counter allegations and disprove rumours.

The Indonesian government is also blocking websites that are considered to be extremist. Although this effort is being made, there are still many sites online that promote Jihad. Slamet Effendy, a leader of Nadhatul Ulama, one of the largest Muslim organizations in Indonesia, mentioned that social media can be used to promote tolerance: “Terrorism in Indonesia, can only be eradicated if religious understanding is in line with the state, which advocates pluralism and a society founded on justice and welfare. Comprehensive efforts to develop good relationships between religious communities are needed at the grassroots level”.

Another way to promote tolerance is the use of respected religious leaders to present moderate interpretations of Islam and the use of pop culture.Ahmad Dhani, an Indonesian pop star sold millions of copies of his anti-extremist song “Laskar Cinta  (Army of Love)”.

What are the demographics and usage of facebook, twitter, etc, or the most used social media platform?

As of June 2013, Indonesia had nearly 48 million Facebook users placing the country 4th in the top ten Facebook countries. The capital Jakarta is the 2nd city with the most Facebook users.

Jakarta is also considered to be the tweet capital of the world with the most Twitter users of any city. Statistics from the end of 2012 until March 2013 estimates the number of users at 29 million positioning Indonesia 5th in the world with the most Twitter users.

Linkedin’s official blog estimates as of February 2014 that Indonesia surpassed 2 million users.

*Cover image ‘Berkibarlah benderaku di angkasa‘  by Yulin Masdakaty


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