Thesis Outline Draft 2
2) An analytical essay exploring related artistic, theoretical, historical and critical issues that inform your practice, without necessarily referring to your work directly.
- plus separate annotations written from a personal point of view, to situate the research within my own context and practice
- or written into the essay in one flowing style
- Social & networked media as democratic or emancipatory tools
- Freedom of speech / freedom of connection / freedom of religion
- The rise of alternative media / pop culture and its role in contemporary nation-building
- (Self-)censorship, cultural regulation and revisionism (“New media, Old wounds”)
- Meme culture as a mode of civic engagement, a way of imaging dissent
- Archiving (remembering) as an active political practice (and post-colonial tool?)
- Alternative ways of sharing knowledge, and their social aspects (“We publish to find comrades!”)
- Weaponization of the internet, propaganda wars in the comments section
Background: As a publisher and a digital native, I have always been interested in the way netizenship informs citizenship (and vice versa). Growing up in Indonesia in the 1990s, I saw a positive correlation between the two – where the arrival of the Internet seemed to both coincide with and contribute to the country’s transition into democracy. Indeed, the first few years of the new millenium was a volatile but also hopeful time in Indonesian civil society. After decades of military rule, the media landscape was opening up.
However, recent trends in Indonesian politics – which is not unrelated to the global political climate – lead me to believe that there is a rising problem of censorship in the country. In the last 10 years alone, “over hundreds of Internet users have been reported to the police and arrested for expressing their opinions freely on the Internet, and in some cases, detained for raising their voices against corrupt government officials.” (Hapsoro, 2018). In 2016, the incumbent governor of Jakarta, a progressive politician by the name of Ahok, was charged and jailed for ‘blaspheming’ against the Qur’an. Cases like these, which play out both online and offline, create immense pressures on freedom of speech and expression in Indonesia.
To counter this trend of suppression, I believe there is an urgent need for more alternative digital platforms and modes of discourses. At the same time, I see how engaged young Indonesians already are with social media and meme culture, often using them as forms of political participation. Following this, I’m intrigued by the participatory potential of memetic media, and want to explore how it could be used as a democratic tool in present-day Indonesia.
Thesis Statement: While in Indonesia today, social media offers valuable alternative spaces for political discourse, more activism is needed to resist the rising pressures of (self-)censorship in the country.
1st chapter: Censorship in Indonesia: a history
Point A: To understand the role of social media in Indonesia today, we first have to look at the history of media power in the country. For most of the last century, mainstream Indonesian media has tended to represent government interests, and has done little to challenge political or cultural hegemonies.
- Argument 1: Under the Suharto regime (1965–1998), the government had literal control of mass media (print, radio & tv)
- Argument 2: They also controlled collective memory: revisionism of certain events, like the 1965 genocide, propaganda & pop culture
Point B: As the dictatorship ended in the late 90's, the emergence of alternative networked media in Indonesia represented new opportunities for democratic discussion and debate.
- Argument 1: Web 2.0. and social media use flourished in Indonesia, expanding freedom of speech and opening up the media landscape. Note the reasons why: anonymity, participatory quality, velocity, spread, pop culture. Give examples from Indonesia (mailing lists for news & dissent against Suharto), and the region (China's river crab meme)
- Argument 2: These tools also enabled freedom of connection, mobilizing new networks and communities. Give examples from the region (the proliferation of the 'warnet' in Indonesia, Philippines revolution against Estrada in 2001)
2nd chapter: Censorship in Indonesia today: new mechanisms and responses
Point A: After an initial uptick, freedom of speech in Indonesia has slowly deteriorated over the past decade, mainly as a result of creeping conservatism and political Islam.
- Argument 1: New legal mechanisms in play include anti-pornography law, blasphemy law, new Sharia state of Aceh
- Argument 2: Technological mechanisms include web blocking, blurring images on tv
Point B: As a way of negotiating these pressures, social media and meme culture has become a fundamental new mode of civic engagement for Indonesian citizens.
- Argument 1: Discuss examples of recent political memes in Indonesia and their impact
- Argument 2: Discuss examples of social media activism in Indonesia, e.g. KPK case, OurVoice.id platform for LGBT, but also discuss examples of those that failed
Point C: At the same time, self-censorship is becoming an increasingly influential force on these platforms.
- Argument 1: Censorship is outsourced to corporations: via the content moderation policies by social media and news platforms. Here difficult questions arise: where does management / regulation veer into censorship? Is censorship needed in some ways? Who is wielding censorship?
- Argument 2: Censorship is also outsourced to the people: using fear, shame, social pressure. Governments are even attacking social media personalities and journalists e.g. Tara Fares in Baghdad, Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. Indonesian example: defamation law. Extreme example: China's reputation system
3rd chapter: What is at stake – how to intervene?
Point A: As a result, the digital sphere is becoming a more dangerous, and less democratic place for Indonesian citizens.
- Argument 1: It hinders political processes. Interest groups are taking advantage of the uncertain climate and weaponizing social media. They use tactics like dangerous speech to sway public and political opinion e.g. buzzers in Indonesia, Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, Duterte in Philippines
- Argument 2: It hinders sociocultural processes: personal concerns on what it means to be Indonesian
Point B: Artists and publishers can and should intervene in social media’s mechanisms to challenge modes of censorship online
- Argument 1: Artistic examples – Iraq War Wikihistoriography by James Bridle, Blind Spot by Miao Ying, An Anthem to Open Borders by Petra Milički
- Argument 2: Practical examples – comment section activism, counterspeech, trolling for good, publishing platforms like Bibliotecha or Ethira, NewsDiffs, Panzagar, Hollaback
As Indonesia's media landscape becomes more and more sensitive to dissent, social media platforms offer young people in the country a valuable, alternative space for civic engagement. However, increasing pressures of state and self-censorship threaten the scope and impact of these activities. Indeed, they threaten freedom of speech as a whole, and democratic public culture by extension. In my opinion, deliberate digital activism is needed to challenge these trends of suppression, and promote more open and meaningful instances of political discourse.