Freedom of Expression and Social Media, Threat and Challanges

By: Wira Arif Budiman *)

REPUBLIKA.CO.ID, Freedom of expression is the right of every citizen and it is guaranteed in the Act. In particular country like Indonesia which has the democratic system, it is one of the pillars that are important so that people’s aspirations can be conveyed to the government. Moreover, freedom of expression is also part of human rights.

There are many ways to express opinions, either directly or indirectly. In modern era, social media is cheap, fast and effective tool for conveying aspirations. It can even be used as a tool for doing campaign, so that the vision and mission of the candidates can be immediately seen and accessed by all people anywhere.

However, social media also has negative impacts. For example, in the context of the Jakarta regional head election, it is used as propaganda to attack and bring down their opponents. The black campaign conducted by irresponsible parties to disseminate fake issues and slander is a short cut way to create a negative image to the others, which makes the people are easily provoked. Furthermore, it causes insecurity because of the chaos can happen anytime.

Almost every day, there is always negative content published. Moreover, most people of Jakarta are literate in technology. They can access internet to update the latest news for twenty-four hours. War of opinion on social media cannot be avoided. The issues of race, ethnicity, and religion that may break up our nation can be distributed freely. Moreover, even the private lives of candidates that have nothing to do with the context of the election could also be spread to the public.

Very often, at the column of comment in online news is filled with inappropriate words and vile slander. Some people seems to loss the manners and etiquette in expressing their ideas. They attack and even threaten each other. Such group looks like an enemy to the others. A sense of nationalism as a great nation is defeated just for the sake of momentary election.

Dissent is a natural thing in democracy, but not indefinitely. Everyone has the right to speak as long as what they say is the truth and delivered in appropriate ways. Moreover, the moment of today’s campaigns should be a lesson to compete sportively. What should be emphasized is to criticize the programs that are owned by the candidates and not to attack them individually.

On the other hand, it must be admitted that the surveillance conducted by the Elections Supervisory Board (Badan Pengawas Pemilu/Banwaslu) against the black campaign on social media is still very weak. This is due to limited human resources and technology. Furthermore, many websites and anonymous accounts are difficult to trace, so that the law enforcement is almost impossible to do.

Therefore, political maturity is the biggest challenge that we are facing today. Accepting different opinions which are not same with us seemed to be a difficult thing to do. We should be aware that it is how democracy works. If there are some parties who have different views, let us criticize them in a good way, not by responding with harsh words and slander.

Moreover, the spread of negative information through mobile phone is a new form of threat. Many people create their own group through mobile phone applications provided in the store. Someone could easily spread fake or hoax news, without confirming the truth from clear source. As a result, it causes hatred, hostility, and insecurity to public.

All the things raise a lot of questions; have we been able to democratize well? Does freedom of expression have exceeded the limit than it should be? Is it still taboo to accept dissent between us? Is it just for the sake of electoral moment, we sacrificed our identity as a friendly and polite people? All the challenges and threats can only be answered by our own self.

Therefore, let us return to our true identity. We must do self-introspection to address the challenges and threats that we face today. Besides, the government has attempted to cool down the situation. President Joko Widodo has invited the scholars to urge people to maintain peace. In addition, the President has also visited the headquarters of the military and police and ordered them as a plurality of adhesive to always watch over the security and integrity of Republic of Indonesia after a peaceful demonstration on 4th November.

Finally, there are some things that should be done by all of us to create a stable and conducive situation. First, do not use social media as a tool to make black campaign and propaganda to provoke the people. Second, the opinion that is expressed by us should be in a good way, wisely and prudently. Third, do not create slanderous information or hoax and spread it out without clear confirmation. Fourth, the government through Elections Supervisory Board (Badan Pengawas Pemilu/Banwaslu), the National Intelligence Agency, and the Police should improve the supervision and cooperation to crack down on various black campaigns and provocation through social media. Fifth and last, the scholars from all religions must be constantly reminding its followers to always maintain peace and harmony among the people.

*) Postgraduate Student of International Relations, the University of Indonesia (UI).