Throughout June, Twitter users brought the world's attention to Iran's disputed election. With the curbed media on ground, protesting Iranians have been relying on Twitter and other social tools to get the word out. As trending topic, hashtagged #iranelection, New York University professor Clay Shirky noted the phenomenon as “The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media.”.
Elsewhere in the world, a nation is also preparing for the climax of the current political course: Indonesia's presidential election is here and happening.
Although the general election has not been a global controversy as in Iran, the future of Indonesia's governance is still under close monitoring by overseas governments, human rights organizations and international media establishments.
As the world's fourth largest country with 240 million people, Indonesia is still aiming high in reforming democracy, thus the documentation of this year's election will be considered as substantial for neighboring countries in Southeast Asia and the world as for Indonesians themselves.
As an example from the international front, Wall Street Journal set up an interactive graphics that display candidates’ profiles, political timeline and the country's economic growth. Locally, Politikana.com is maintaining an editorial segment, Suara Mereka, reserved for election coverage along with updates through #politikana hashtag. Meanwhile, Kompasiana, journalist blog network established by Kompas Cyber Media, provides outlet for opinion articles by citizen journalists and also reporters from the news service.
On the Twittersphere, likely sparked by media portals, the blogosphere and televised broadcasts, hundreds of tweets on the election are posted daily. Altogether the numbers have been stabilizing since legislative electoral period and predictably will continue to rise to its highest peak today, July 8th, as shown below:
What is the role of Twitter in engaging the community in political campaigns and how? For voters, the microblogging platform generally facilitates these functions:
• As independent media among Indonesian citizens. In this respect, however, quantity is more signified than quality; from criticism to appraisal, the opinions are unfiltered as they are independent. It serves a paradox of purposes, aiding political education for the mass and catalyst for national cyber-activism, but also increasing the probability of black campaigning or counterproductive behaviors.
On Twitter, three primary hashtags become the virtual wall for gathering public opinion:
- #debatcapres. Twitter conversation on presidential debates broadcast nationwide during campaign period.
- #pilpres. Twitter conversation on presidential candidates and election.
- #indonesiaelection. Twitter conversation on General Election 2009. Mostly in English.
• As political campaign medium for the running presidential candidates. Each candidate's team have not yet reported or verified the effectiveness of campaigning through online social media however, except for allowing the seemingly direct communication between voters and candidates. It has been more of a “sandbox” for the newly introduced strategy, rather than the strategy itself, thus depending much on public initiative. The twittering candidates:
Megawati/Prabowo braces the iconic red for its Twitter page, actively communicating with fellow Twitter users.
Boediono, candidate for vice president representing Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono/Boediono chooses a more interpersonal approach, using “Tetap Semangat” as a personal jargon.
As for Jusuf Kalla for Jusuf Kalla/Wiranto, despite being a favorite for his on-screen performance, hasn't been showing activity on Twitter except for re-posting articles feed via AddToAny.
• As reporting medium for both citizen and mainstream journalism. Through online portals, mainstream media provides the required information source surrounding the Twittersphere. In return, Twitter users distribute and help shape the coverage by drawing the attention to certain subjects; it is considered an added bonus for social media-optimized news services.
On election day, a drastic rise of Twitter conversation is highly anticipated, and celebrated. The call for celebration is not only for how social media technology enhances the nature of democracy, but also how citizens are getting themselves involved, regardless diversity of ethnics and religions, in the quest for better governance.
With the official results due on July 25th, what begs the question next is whether the political leaders will carry on improving sustainable, democratic and transparent interactivity in the long run, or be the fickle light that dims right after.