Social media play a crucial role in Indonesian and Hong Kong protests

Ramadha Valentine & Dimas Permadi, Students of University of Islam Indonesia

IO – Recently, Hong Kong people gathered in public to protest the attitude of the Chinese government, which seeks to usurp their rights by interfering in the judicial process, through the Hong Kong Extradition Bill. The Chinese government is considered to have violated the agreed right of autonomy and disturbed the stability of Hong Kong. The background to the Extradition Bill is the historical surrender of Hong Kong  from the British government to the PRC, as the present Chinese government considers itself entitled to Hong Kong territory.

The recent protests were also motivated by economic motives, seeing how China’s attitude was aggressive in resolving this problem. Then there was also major support from the US government for US investment in Hong Kong. The Extradition Bill has triggered an escalation in demonstrations and disrupted all activities of the Hong Kong government and also the daily activities of civil society.

The demonstrators sought support from various parties, both internal and external. They are active in providing information to outside parties through social media so that various parties know about the problems at stake. The aim is to get support and participation from a variety of parties, as did pro-democracy activists seeking support from Germany for democratic rights in Hong Kong.

The same phenomenon also took place in Indonesia, where people gather to protest the revision of the Indonesian Criminal Code Bill on September 23, 2019. Previously, many state legal experts in Indonesia said that the revision of the Criminal Code Bill would weaken several laws in Indonesia and at the same time have a negative impact on Indonesian democracy. This perception is reinforced by the assumption that government efforts as a way to weaken the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). This drives Indonesian people (especially students) to organize demonstrations in various areas such as Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Purwokerto, Malang, Bandung, Samarinda, Balikpapan, Palembang, Semarang, Solo, Medan, Lampung, Aceh, and Makassar.

The government’s response was considered slow and undemocratic, where it does not provide any clear response to the demands and questions of the public regarding the revision of the Criminal Code Bill. Rather, the Joko Widodo administration took repressive action, such as shooting demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets.

While the two demonstrators in Indonesia and Hong Kong may have different aspirations, both protests have similarities when it comes to the role social media play in them.

How social media plays a role in both protests
Demonstrations that have taken place in Hong Kong and Indonesia had some commonalities, especially in the role of social media, which has a strong influence in building a common perspective on the issues at hand so that much support was injected into the ongoing issue. Social media users, both domestically and internationally, have their respective roles in providing information and full support in gaining international attention. Social media has also become one of the platforms for the community to play an active role in forming an alliance in carrying out its mission.

For example, the use of hashtags on social media that shows support for demonstrations taking place in Hong Kong. On Twitter, it can be found several hashtags such as “Occupy Hong Kong”, “Occupy Central”, and “Umbrella Movement” which succeeded in gaining the attention of the people.

According to data obtained from twitter, as many as 1.3 million tweets were about issues related to demonstrations in Hong Kong. This certainly strengthens the attention and support provided by people. Moreover, social media is also used as a medium for information for people who want to know the situation that has just occurred with the demonstrators.

However, the government’s response to the role of social media in Hong Kong can be said to be quite repressive, by banning social media like Twitter and Facebook. In addition, the Chinese government also removed all forms of posts related to the issue.

Similarly in Indonesia, people also used social media as a forum to express the  issues at hand. One example was a movement called “Gejayan Memanggil” (Gejayan is Calling), which aims to call people to gather for demonstrations in the city of Yogyakarta. Judging by the choice of words on social media, it can be seen that the movement is persuasive. The goal is to call as many students and the public as possible to take part in demonstrations.

Some people also enliven the hashtag with information, opinions, and photos that are posted into various social media such as Facebook and Instagram.

Democracy is leading the way
In a recent piece on SCMP, Derwin Pereira writes how the protests in Indonesia and Hong Kong were carried out around similar issues. What is also similar between the two protests  is the role social media playedin these demonstrations.

The phenomenon speaks volumes about how the human quest for freedom or any other aspiration towards reclaiming power from the government can’t be snuffed out, even by the most powerful autocratic system or by state’s repressive actions. Social media has also made hard to turn a quest into change as today everyone is a leader, a critic, and a writer.

Stories lately coming from Indonesia and Hong Kong provide additional examples of how democracy is now leading the way. Common people now have more weapons to communicate and take on the powerful, while previously these examples were coming from countries of Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring, where social media helped people topple dictatorial regimes; now they are becoming apparent in Asia.

While it is difficult to measure precisely, social media has increasingly played an important role in uplifting the state of democracy in many parts of the world. In Indonesia, Jokowi has begun to reconsider his policy by inviting a number of experts to rework the planned unpopular legislation. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Carrie Lam is thinking of resigning.