In the last year and a half there has been something of a surge in the use of the social media by Timorese. This is due less to an increase in users, but an increase in use by existing users, both Timorese inside and outside the country. Although there have been dramatic drops in internet access prices by Timor Telcom in the last 6 months, which suggests more people might be getting online.
While blogs are proliferating, Facebook appears to be increasingly the platform of choice.
This should come as no surprise given that Timor Leste's neighbour Indonesia, has the fourth largest number of facebook users in the world, with 14,000,000 as of December 2009. One source states that Indonesia is third, with only the US and UK exceeding it.
Indonesians are also the fastest growing group of facebookers in the world with a 1,500% increase in 2009. Despite the fact that Indonesia invaded Timor in 1975 and brutally occupied it until 1999, resulting in over 150,000 deaths, its social and economic ties to Timor remain deep and entrenched.
Internet penetration in Timor-Leste is still very low when compared to other countries. According to Internet World Stats Timor-Leste has a population of 1,131,612, while the capital city has a population of 166,903 ('07). However, it states that TT says that there are only 1,800 Internet users as of Sept/09. This means that only 0.2% of the population has access to the internet. For background one can read “Timor: 9 years of Internet, still one ISP and a huge digital gap” by Global Voices Contributor Sara Moreira
However, with an increasing population of Timorese, who have one of the highest birth rates in the world, both inside and outside the country Facebook use is clearly on the rise. With 4,000 students in Indonesia there appears to be direct correlation.
The Media – first in.
Timorese media have been among the most active. One of the first major users of Facebook in Timor-Leste was the weekly newspaper Tempo Semanal, its Facebook site launched in late 2008 jumped to over 2,000 friends in its first 6 months and now tops 5,000. No doubt it might be alot more if it got more serious about social media. One thing is for certain Tempo Semanal and its editor Jose Belo, have lead the charge on web media in Timor-Leste, with aggressive reporting and an active online presence through the web-blog version of the print paper and a big facebook following.
Other media outlets have followed suit. CJITL – Centru Jornalista Investigativu Timor-Leste has a Facebook fanpage with 673 fans, Timor News Net has over 1,728 friends. There is even Tau Matan ba TVTL / Media Watch group.
Soon after the media got involved in spreading their message via Facebook politicians realised its power. Probably the first, and certain one of the most active on Facebook has been the Member of Parliament Arsenio Bano (Vice-President of the Opposition party FRETILIN). Bano's Facebook is used to highlight Parliaments work as well as promote anti-government news and information as put forward by the Opposition. It has proved popular, and now numbers over 5,000 friends in less 12 months of use.
Other Opposition Members of Parliament are also getting in the Facebook game to play politics; FRETILIN Member of Parliament Jose Teixeira, with 1,109 friends, aired a police brutality video on Facebook ending up causing a storm in Parliament in December 2009. FRETILIN MP Osorio Florindo da Costa is also a facebooker. TATOLI, a FRETILIN leaning political blog has recently taken to posting facebook comments online – in this case relating to accusation and counter accusation to and from the Timorese Foreign Minister. Meanwhile Agio Pereira, the Government's Chief Spokesman keeps a much lower profile on facebook.
Social Media and Political Celebrities
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has a fanpage with over 2,436 fans.
Chief of the Defence Force Maj-General Taur Matan Ruak has a fanpage with over 3.600 fans. Some people in Timor-Leste are hopeful the General will stand for President one day.
Deputy Prime Minister Mario Carrascalao has a page here with 615 fans, and a counter page “SAY no to Mario Carrascalao” fanpage with over 1,705 fans here.
Below is just a very very small sample of Timor-Leste related Facebook activity, groups, fanpages etc
East Timor Business, East Timor Tourism, K-LINK INTERNATIONAL, BRANCH TIMOR LESTE, Timor Leste Management Society, Peace Dividend Marketplace Timor-Leste, Roberto Carlos Hotel – Lospalos/Timor Leste, the Ministry of Tourism Commerce and Industry (MTCI).
Society and Culture
Kafe Timor ( Café Timor/Timor Coffee), Justice NOW for East Timor's war crimes (1975-1999), East Timor Student In Java, Community District Manufahi Group, Timorese Students In The Philippines, I am Timorese, Schools of Esperanca in Atauro, Timor Leste, Friends of Lospalos, Amazing Timor Photographs, Baucau, TIMOR LESTE Pride!, Rede Feto and IT Ba Futuru. And here is a new one about Aussie commandos in Timor-Leste during WWII, Timor Sparrow Force.
Social Media and Telcoms
Social media relies on good service providers. Reflecting a general discontent with the monopoly held by Timor Telcom a host of anti-Timor Telcom Facebook pages and groups have appeared in the last 18 months.
Ijiji Aumenta tan operador Telekomunikasau iha Timor states in its leader that:
TT besik tinan 8 ona hari ‘i iha Timor maibe ne rede seidauk bele tama subdistritu hotu, nia kualidade rede la diak. Ijji atu aumenta tang operador 3 iha Timor. atu bele fo benefisiu diak ba timor oan tomak.
Other Facebook groups opposed to the ongoing Telcom Timor monopoly include AKSAUN 50.000 PESOAS FACEBOOKERS ANTI TIMOR TELECOM (2,500 members), Why Timor Telecom sux?!, New Timor-Telecom's SLOGAN, to name just a few.
Certainly most people in Timor-Leste have no idea what Facebook is.
With poverty being endemic and internet access ridiculously poor Timorese are not yet “online”. One of Timor-Leste's most famous former FALINTIL resistance guerrillas, Lere Annan Timor, likes to joke that the first time he saw a computer in 1999 he thought it was a television.
However, there can be no doubt that the future of social media in Timor-Leste is going to be one of growth. As the access to technology expands the young population of Timor-Leste (with 50% being less than 17 years old) will take to it like ducks to water. As they are already.
Is a Twitter revolution next? Perhaps, as Timor Telcom is now advertising 3G networks coming soon in Dili, Baucau, Gleno, Aileu and Los Palos. Thats over half the population. There are already more than a few people in Dili with smart phones waiting for it to happen – not least of all the politicians. With a Blackberry Bold dropping in price from $600 in January 2010 to less than $300 in September 2010 – its just a matter of time before we see smart phones in the hands of people in the mountains. Just a matter of time. With rising salaries, a wave of public spending in play the cash to buy is increasingly there.
One has to wonder what social, political and economic change will occur as a result. While there has been a huge increase in the use of social media in Timor-Leste in the last 2 years its impact is likely quite minimal in the short term. But with a general election to be held in 2 years time there may be room yet for it to potentially play a role.