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.

Project O: A Night of Charitable Joy

On 7 October 2017, RMIT University Storey Hall lit up with a wide range of productions from skits, dances, stand-up comedy to an assortment of singing performances. Project O 2017 focalised their event on the theme “Happiness in Giving” and centred their shows on the dynamics of education and their appreciation towards Papuan culture. Since its inception in 2010, Project O had set itself apart from other Melburnian events by focusing not only on the entertainment aspect but also on the social issues within Indonesia. This year, Project O collaborated with Book for Papua with the aim of improving access to education in Indonesia’s most western region. Not only did Project O raise awareness of the non-profit organisation and the literacy issue in Papua, but they also donated 60% of the event’s income to Book for Papua. “We define success by the outcome of our cause. Our event is only a success the moment our project could improve the quality of education in Indonesia especially children in Wamena, Papua,” said Fransiska Darmawan and Avada Nirel, the Project Managers of Project O 2017. Following welcoming speeches from the President of PPIA RMIT, Joshua Koswara, Project O Project Managers, and Dewi Savitri Wahab, the Consul General of the Republic of Indonesia for Victoria, the three-membered band Klaudspirits opened the evening with a song cover of popular Indonesian band Noah and their own original song. The winner from Project O’s pre-event “Samuna”, a four-membered band called Ajoy, then continued to keep the audience on the edge of their seat with their rendition of a traditional Papua song “Apuse Kokondau”. Accompanied with contemporary dances, the acoustic arrangement of the song induced melancholic and nostalgic atmosphere to the whole auditorium. Two skits by Students of Melbourne followed the performances of the evening. The first skit showed a contrasting scenario between a school at an Indonesian metropolitan city and a rural village in Papua. While the urban students expressed indifference towards their accessibility to learning facilities, the rural students were struggling to obtain new learning materials such as books and notes. The second skit concentrated on the importance of staying true to oneself despite the social expectations and new whereabouts, which was an issue relatable to many Indonesians overseas. Monash University student Yehezkiel Nicolas Susanto shared his experience and remarked that he thoroughly enjoyed the performances. “The event [Project O 2017] was a great success,” he said. “It was really good from the powerful skits to the singing performances. Amazing!” Later in the evening, the stand-up comedian Mamat ruled the stage. Originally from Papua, Mamat was drawn to Project O’s cause as he could relate to the Papuan’ struggle with scarce access to education. “Be successful. Have dreams. Achieve them,” said Mamat during Project O press conference to Indonesian student overseas. “But don't forget your roots, don't forget to come home. Indonesia is a growing community that is perpetually in need of contribution and improvement. You are pursuing your goals and dreams while children in papua do not have the same opportunities as you do. To have dreams is a privilege to them, to be able to achieve them is a miracle.” Although Project O was Mamat’s first time performing overseas, his performance was beyond memorable. He delivered jokes that brought the auditorium into bursts of laughter. While his topics revolved around his native region Papua, Mamat satirically addressed the existent stereotypes and uttered inspiring commentaries on eradicating discrimination on the basis of appearance. But Mamat was not the only highlight of the evening. The singer-songwriter Yura gave an equally unique performance with her captivating voice. She performed her hit songs along with a song that had a Sundanese-Jazz arrangement. Resonating the message of the second skit, Yura emphasised the importance of remembering where we came from. “The idea of “Happiness in Giving” makes you feel good about yourself because giving and sharing is much more rewarding than just receiving,” said Yura during the press conference. “This is also the perfect opportunity to inspire a sense of nationalism and pride in our culture and language since we are living overseas.” Yura’s tribute to Sundanese music was evident in her performance. Her Sunda-Broadway-Jazz arrangement as well as her song “Cinta dan Rahasia” proved to be a hit as she drove the crowd to the front of the stage to sing along. As the evening drew to a close, Clara Tandi from RMIT University felt positively charitable and commented, “It is really nice to know that profits [from the event] are given back [to society].” Fransiska Darmawan and Avada Nirel added that it was an evening filled with relief and triumph after months of hard work. “We hope that the event reminds fellow Indonesians of their roots. We believe that through these performances, people can reflect on themselves better, and that the impact will be stronger and will last longer,” they said. With the audience’s positive responses to Project O 2017, Fransiska and Avada were optimistic that the committee next year would exceed the hype from this year’s event and continue raising awareness of the social condition and education system in Indonesia. “Just like our motto, “Share to learn, learn to share”, we aim to break the poverty chain by helping Indonesian students obtain a better access to a education.”