My thesis will take the form of an analytical essay exploring related artistic, theoretical, historical and critical issues that inform my practice. I also want to include annotations written from an emotional and personal point of view, to situate the research within my own context and practice.
Background: As a publisher who is also 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 for Indonesian civil society. After decades of military rule, the media landscape was opening up.
However, recent trends in Indonesian politics lead me to believe that there is a rising problem of (self-)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 jailed for ‘blaspheming’ against the Qur’an. Cases like these, which play out both online and offline, create immense pressures on freedom of speech in Indonesia. It also limits cultural expression, as society restricts its view to a single culture dominated by religious principles.
This trend of suppression seems to be especially dangerous for women, the LGBTQ community, and those of minor ethnicities and faiths. As a non-Muslim, biracial Indonesian woman myself, I feel an urgent need for more open and alternative spaces in which to participate in political and cultural discourse. At the same time, I see how engaged young Indonesians already are with social media and meme culture. Following this, I think it's important we explore how the specificities of this medium could be used as a democratic and feminist tool in present-day Indonesia.
Thesis Statement: While in Indonesia today, social media offers young people a valuable alternative space for political discourse, deliberate activism is needed to help women in particular resist the rising pressures of state and self-censorship in the country.
PART 1 – ON CENSORSHIP IN INDONESIAN HISTORY
Point A: Historically, mainstream Indonesian media has tended to serve government interests, doing little to challenge political or cultural hegemonies.
Argument 1: Under the authoritarian regime of President Suharto (1965–1998), mass media (print, radio & tv) was heavilly controlled by the government.
- example: the 1994 Government shutdown of weekly magazines TEMPO, EDITOR and DeTIK
- example: the total monopoly of television broadcasting by state-owned TVRI until 1989
Argument 2: They also controlled collective memory, as a way of establishing one identity for the country and its citizens.
- example: revisionism of 1965 government sanctioned anti-communist purge, in film and school history books
- example: repressing the cultural expression of minority or ‘rebel’ groups, going as far as prohibiting Indonesian women from wearing the hijab in schools (1982), and Chinese people from practicing their traditions publicly
Point B: As President Suharto's dictatorship ended in 1998, Indonesia's media landscape opened up, buoyed by the emergence of alternative networked media.
Argument 1: The internet brought a freedom of connection, allowing alternative networks to emerge.
- example: young people and activists began to gather at increasingly popular ‘warnets' (internet cafes) in Indonesia
Argument 2: It also brought a freedom of expression, allowing alternative discourses to emerge.
- example: the influx of new media platforms, radio stations, newspapers, bringing news and pop culture from around the region
- example: the use of "Indonesia-L" and “Apakabar” mailing lists to share political news & dissent (started in 1990)
PART 2 – ON CENSORSHIP TRENDS TODAY
Point A: In Indonesia's young democracy, social media and meme culture has become a fundamental new mode of civic engagement for young citizens.
Argument 1: Memes have brought politics to the masses, allowing them a channel to image dissent on a huge scale.
- example: use of memes as political expression in 2014 presidential election
Argument 2: Blogs, and social media like Youtube and Instagram are being used as platforms for marginalised communities.
- example: www.suarakita.id has become an important space for LGBTQ community - example: feminist platforms like Perempuan Politik (Political Women), podcasts by Magdalene Indonesia
Point B: However, freedom of speech in Indonesia has faced a backlash over the past decade, mainly as a result of creeping conservatism and political Islam.
Argument 1: There has been an increase of legal mechanisms of censorship.
- example: the new anti-pornography law (2008)
- example: the establishment of the Sharia state of Aceh (2001)
- example: the new blasphemy law (2011)
Argument 2: There has been an increase of technological mechanisms of censorship.
- example: web blocking of political and pop culture sites (Vimeo, Tumblr)
- example: tv and film censorship of women’s bodies
Argument 3: There has been an increase in psychological mechanisms of censorship (inciting fear and intolerance).
- example: the many victims of the Indonesian defamation law (2008)
Point C: More worryingly, these mechanisms have also been internalized by society, creating a strong atmosphere of self-censorship both online and offline. Argument 1: Self-censorship is actively carried out by the people.
- example: social media users censoring their comments out of fear or shame
Argument 2: Self-censorship by actively carried out by corporations
- example: news platforms censoring their content under political and economic pressure
- example: social media platforms moderating their content under political and economic pressure
PART 3 – WHAT IS AT STAKE? AND HOW TO INTERVENE
Point A: Left unchallenged, the digital sphere will become a more dangerous, and less democratic place for Indonesian citizens, especially women.
Argument 1: Social media is already being used as a weapon of politics.
- example: buzzers in Indonesia ahead of 2019 elections
- example: weaponization of the internet by President Duterte in Philippines
Argument 2: Social media is already being used as a weapon of religious intolerance.
- example: hate speech and actions against the Rohingya in Myanmar
- example: hate speech and actions in Indonesia (Muslim Cyber Army)
- example: attack of social media star Tara Fares in Baghdad
Argument 3: Social media is being used to create a surveillance state. Here I want to express my personal concerns on the censorship trends which threaten my identity and expression as an Indonesian woman.
- example: ‘Jasa Tutup Akun’ services to erase images of non-hijab wearing Indonesian women
- example: China’s proposed reputation system
Point B: Artists and publishers can and should intervene to challenge modes of censorship online.
Argument 1: Artistic examples of tactics and projects – Iraq War Wikihistoriography by James Bridle, Blind Spot by Miao Ying, An Anthem to Open Borders by Petra Milički
Argument 2: Practical examples of tactics and projects – comment section activism, counterspeech, trolling for good, publishing platforms like Bibliotecha or Ethira, NewsDiffs, Panzagar, Hollaback
Argument 3: Theoretical examples of tactics and practices – artist as archivist, artist as cultural worker, relational art, hacktivism
In Indonesia today, young people are flocking to social media as an alternative form of political participation and self-expression. However, increasing pressures of state and self-censorship threaten the scope and impact of these activities. As Indonesian public culture becomes more and more sensitive to dissent, online spaces become less welcoming of alternative ideas and identities. In my opinion, artistic and practical interventions are needed to challenge this culture of suppression, provide new triggers for dialogue, and encourage young people (especially young women) to engage in critical forms of citizenship.