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Central Government, Digital Inclusion

Social networks: Indonesia's fifth estate?

Social networks in Indonesia have become the country’s “fifth estate” - they are shaping democracy and policymaking. So says the commissioner of the Indonesian Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (BRTI), Heru Sutardi, who points to recent cases of where Indonesians have used social networks to amass public support and pressure governments.

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At the end of last year, two leaders of Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) were released from jail with the aid of a defence campaign led by a Facebook group (A Million Facebookers Support Chandra Hamzah and Bibit Samad Riyanto) that has 1.4 million members.

In June 2009, a mother-of-two was jailed for defamation after an email complaint she made against a hospital appeared on Facebook. A Facebook group of 100,000 paid her legal bills and protested her innocence. She was later acquitted.

“Facebook in particular has become a common outlet for discussions on the state of democracy in Indonesia,” Sutadi told FutureGov. “Groups raising popular public policy issues have been growing in influence, drawing together the public and government in debate and into action.”

“It can now be said that social networks have become ‘the fifth estate’ in Indonesia, alongside the legislative, executive, judicative and the media,” he added.

According to a recent Indonesian Internet Society survey, most Indonesian internets users do so to access social networks such as Twitter, Facebook (Indonesia is Facebook’s fast-growing market) and MySpace to interact with friends, family and colleagues.

Social networks have grown alongside the rise of low-cost web-enabled mobile devices and the proliferation of brands (real and copied) such as BlackBerry and iPhone – Indonesia is Asia’s fastest growing mobile subscriber market.

According to a survey of 1500 internet users in seven Indonesian cities by Yahoo! in May of this year, 48 per cent of users access the web via mobile phones, compared with 26 per cent in 2009.

“Government and stakeholders are now using the internet to deliver e-services through all means available. E-democracy is the latest one - and its medium is increasingly a handheld device,” Sutadi said.

Almost all new cell phones in Indonesia, even those costing less than US$100, have internet capability. Meanwhile, the country’s online population is growing at a rate of 49 per cent annually, up to 30 million in September 2009 - a 1000 per cent increase over in the last nine years.

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