Indonesia's love affair with social media

By Karishma Vaswani
BBC News, Jakarta

  • Published
Two women use social media on their mobiles in Jakarta on 11 February 2012
Image caption,
A higher proportion of Indonesian internet users tweet than in any other country

The film #republiktwitter is a tale that reflects Indonesia's love affair with Twitter. These days, as one of the characters in the movie says, the people's voice is Twitter's voice.

It is a modern Indonesian romantic comedy about two young people who find love through social media.

The film also helps explain why Indonesians are so obsessed with communicating with each other online.

This is one of the most Twitter and Facebook-friendly nations on Earth. A higher proportion of Indonesian internet users sign on to Twitter than in any other country. Indonesia is also home to the world's third-largest number of Facebook users.

Indonesian Facebook and Twitter users have managed to push for social justice online and embarrassed misbehaving government officials, as well as helping businesses market their products.

That is why popular computer game Angry Birds held the global launch of its tie-up with Facebook in Jakarta this week.

The launch was held in a suburban Jakarta mall in front of fans who turned up in the hope of winning a prize. Children as young as five or six attended the launch.

Image caption,
Young Indonesians are engaging with social media at an early age

Holding the launch in Indonesia was part and parcel of the Asian strategy of Rovio - the company behind Angry Birds.

"It's to ignite the whole market of Indonesia," Rovio Asia's Senior Vice-President Henri Holm said. "To get them to like Angry Birds on Facebook and then play the game online."

He said that Jakarta was the top choice for the official launch because Indonesia was the social media capital of the world.

"It's a creative market. People here are entrepreneurs, they have that built-in creativity to them," he explained. "Indonesia is very close to our objectives - and the cultural heritage here and tradition of story-telling is very deep and exciting for us to explore."

'Many conversations'

It is thought there are 40 million Facebook users among Indonesia's 240 million-strong population - no small feat, given that only 21% of Indonesians between the ages of 15 and 49 have access to the internet, according to a 2011 report.

Many in rural areas struggle to get connected, but the social media phenomenon is widespread amongst Indonesia's urban elite.

Everyone who is anyone is on Twitter these days - and one way for young Indonesians to feel connected to some of the famous and powerful people is by following them online.

Desi Anwar, one of the country's most popular television hosts, has more than 100,000 Twitter followers.

"Indonesia is blessed with lots of young people," she said. "If you look at the demographics of the users, a lot of them are young - and young people like to chat!"

Image caption,
Desi Anwar said the social media explosion had sparked new conversations

Tweeting has been so successful for Desi that she has recently released a book of her tweets - which often focus on life tips and how to be happy - because they were retweeted so often.

It is a sign of the times, she says, and recognition of the fact that social media is becoming an increasingly natural and normal way for Indonesians to communicate.

"It's because of the sort of democratic environment that Indonesia is now and has been in the last decade. People here are very critical of government and society," she said.

"And there are so many things going on here... It gives rise to all sorts of conversations at all sorts of levels. Everyone has an opinion on everything - and this is what creates this tremendous noise."

That noise is beginning to have an impact off-line too. A recent protest against hard-line Muslim groups was organised entirely through Facebook and Twitter.

But not as many people turned up as organisers had hoped, despite a huge outpouring of online support.

Social media is still in its infancy in Indonesia - but using it to effect social change has become a growing trend.

Indonesians are no strangers to protests - this country won its democracy through people power. But now they have a whole new tool, one that is right at their fingertips.