Social Media in the Political Sphere

When we think about politics, we often associate it with men wearing expensive suits sitting around large glass tables talking about how the economy is to blame for the civil unrest amongst citizens whilst subtly calculating which ally is more valuable in preventing World War 3. Naturally when we think about social media, it’s all about who appeals the most.

Snapchat. Instagram. Facebook.
It is where we choose to share our stories: whether our audience wants to see what we had for brunch with our squad last Sunday, or our politically motivated rant on whitewashing in Hollywood movies, or even a tagged meme post on when exam stress takes its tolls. However, when we combine both politics and social media, it is extremely unfortunate that Donald Trump and his ridiculous tweets spring to mind. Ridiculous yet highly effective, he has managed to annoy millions of people around the world in under 140 characters.

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
“Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault” 6:37 PM – 8 May 2013. Tweet.

Amazing, right? A genuinely intelligent person would not go around insulting others for not realising his/her “intellect”. We want to hate him and disregard his morally violating opinions. Yet we feed into it, like an addiction. We can’t ignore it. This tells us something about how politicians use social media to frame narratives and shape ideas. Donald Trump wants you to think that you can predict him when in fact, he has the upper hand on the element of surprise. His campaign manager must have been paid handsomely.

There’s another prominent political figure with an equally fascinating social media reputation. Joko Widodo, the incumbent Indonesian president. His son, Kaesang, started a Youtube channel a while back. His videos would feature Jokowi from time to time, situating both of them in an intriguing and unusual setting. To most people, it is surprising to see Jokowi goofing around with Kaesang and competing on who has the better haircut. Through Kaesang’s videos, the world sees a new side of Jokowi — a model of a loving dad — behind the demeanor of the calm president that Indonesians are very familiar with.

And down the rabbit hole he goes. Jokowi begins appearing on social media as a ‘gaul’ (chic) public figure. His public image and reputation soars tremendously as a result. How many presidents of a nation with 250 million citizens and one of the biggest global economic contribution can be photographed wearing band shirts while enjoying the concert? (Notably: Guns and Roses, WTF 2016 and 2017). There are even rumors going around Whatsapp that several Garuda Indonesia Airlines passengers had witnessed Jokowi sitting in Economy class during his trip to Singapore for his son’s high school graduation because he wanted to come as a father, not as the President of Indonesia. His well-known humility has garnered praises from the public, both locally and globally..

It is undeniable that Indonesia is still developing as a nation, but we are a rising, chaotic, and dynamic superpower. We are one of the most populated and diverse countries and we need a unifying common objective. Perhaps the positive responses on his appearances in social media were what led Jokowi to finally establish a Youtube account. His account is just like a regular Youtube channel, except for its content. Jokowi vlogs his interactions with reputable public figures such as Barack Obama, Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau. The president even vlogs about his day with his grandson or the time when he ate ‘bakso’ (meatballs) in Ambon. What really blew the roof was the time Jokowi vlogged his meal with the king of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, during the latter’s rare overseas visits to nations with diplomatic ties. The video is short with only 2 minutes in length, but it features Jokowi talking to the camera while interacting with the king with the help of an interpreter. The king even directly addressed the camera and stated that it has been an honor for him to visit Indonesia. The Youtube comments section is bombarded with positive comments on Jokowi’s willingness to share.

“Pak Jokowi gaul abis dah bikin vlog 😂 setau saya cuman presiden Indonesia yang nyempetin waktunya buat bikin vlog walaupun sebentar 👍” Zahra Safira
(trans: Mr. Jokowi is so cool to make this video. So far, he is the only president who takes time aside to make vlogs, even if it does not last long.)

These unique modes of storytelling have shaped Indonesia’s perspective of politics. The idea that politics is a dirty game played by officials for corruption and tax evasion purposes is now outdated. We now see that the dynamics of politics has two sides, just like every other story. Public figures are no longer beyond our grasps of understanding. They are not Gods or super-humans. They can be a president and a grandfather too. They can get up in the morning and make coffee and read the papers, just like most of us. Social media have opened communication between citizens and the state. The platform has redefined how a member of local community can interact with their leaders and how those leaders exercise authority to govern a nation through unconventional means. It has opened a two-way street of direct interactivity.

Social media has removed the barriers of transparency because Jokowi decidedly shared his life. Jokowi’s decision to share what happens behind the screen, behind his daily life draws us into trusting him. By sharing the ordinariness of his life, he pulls us to create a sense of identification and relatability with him. It is important to note, however, that he does not act without an agenda. Every move in politics is calculated to be executed with minimal cost. Yes, state leaders conduct diplomacy to reach mutual agreements that may bear some consequences. Jokowi chooses to share with us the bits of his life that he wants us to see. That is the bits, not the whole thing. By emulating his past positive experience with vlogging, Jokowi appeals to the public’s liking and trends, and therefore anticipates further positive responses. He wants to seem reliable and relatable. He wants to appeal to the masses and he has done so effectively. In this sense, Jokowi is like Trump, only less controversial, infinitely nicer and with more uplifting responses.