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Social media campaigns in the Indonesian Presidential race targeting youth voters

Political campaigns in Indonesia intensify on social media, with supporters spending billions on ads. Concerns rise about content masking candidates’ flaws and influencing emotionally driven decisions among young voters.

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INDONESIA – In the lead-up to the 2024 presidential election in Indonesia, political campaigns are intensifying their efforts on social media platforms, with supporters pouring billions of rupiah into online advertising.

While this strategy aims to engage the country’s youth, concerns about the potential manipulation of young voters and the overshadowing of candidates’ substantive issues are rising.

The official campaign period has witnessed a surge in social media content as campaign teams vie to shape public perceptions through various online channels.

The photo of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, Prabowo-Gibran, follows the trend of Disney Pixar AI-generated photos. (Photo: tribunnews.com)

Nina Andriana, a researcher at the Center for Political Research at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), suggests that the content often focuses on superficial aspects, potentially diverting the attention of young voters from candidates’ actual qualifications and policies.

Andriana emphasizes the need for campaign teams to balance light-hearted and humorous content with a responsibility to prioritize political education. She warns against relying solely on emotional appeals, urging campaigns to present a more comprehensive view of the candidates.

Ganjar’s three-finger salute. (Photo: suara.com)

Despite these concerns, representatives from each presidential candidate contend that social media serves as a tool to introduce the substantive aspects of their respective candidates and increase political awareness among young voters.

Recent data from the Meta Ad Library report reveals significant spending by political candidates on Facebook advertising.

Over the last three months, Prabowo Subianto’s official Facebook account and affiliated accounts have collectively spent IDR 2.27 billion (approximately USD 162,142.86) on Meta advertising. Anies Baswedan’s supporters invested IDR 1.05 billion (approximately USD 75,000), while Ganjar Pranowo’s backers spent IDR 847 million (approximately 60,500).

The image that the Anies team aims to build is one that is synonymous with grounded intellectuality and is also up to date. (Photo: Getty Images)

Firman Kurniawan, a Culture and Digital Communication expert from the University of Indonesia, estimates that seven out of ten social media posts that capture the public’s attention contain political content.

He expresses concerns that the substantial funding and productivity of political content creators could potentially overwhelm young voters, particularly Generation Z, leading them to be engulfed by a “content tsunami.”

Andhyta Firselly Utami, a co-founder of “Bijak Memilih” (Choose Wisely), highlights the impact of social media gimmicks on young voters, stating that many were only familiar with candidates based on the “gimmicks” present on social media.

This sentiment is echoed by concerns that youth voters might not be making rational choices due to the overwhelming influence of emotionally charged content.

Nina Andriana advises campaign teams to be cautious in their approach, emphasizing that the proliferation of political content on social media could shape perceptions solely based on the quantity of content rather than the substance.

The use of unconventional campaign tactics is exemplified by Prabowo Subianto’s “gemoy” (cutely chubby) image, which starkly contrasts with his stern and assertive demeanor in previous elections. The campaign strategically employs this more approachable image through TikTok, where videos featuring Prabowo dancing and smiling have become a distinctive element of the Prabowo-Gibran campaign.

Dedek Prayudi, the spokesperson for Prabowo-Gibran’s Youth Voter Campaign, explains that the “gemoy” label emerged spontaneously on social media, sparked by a TikTok video of Prabowo dancing. The campaign then embraced the term, using it to amplify its presence among Generation Z.

While Prabowo has no TikTok account, the campaign uses other platforms, such as Instagram, where Prabowo shares videos with a nationalistic theme. Dedek Prayudi stresses that their strategy aims to reach and engage young voters, especially through social media.

Contrastingly, Ganjar Pranowo’s campaign employs popular cultural references such as “The Hunger Games” to connect with younger audiences. Ganjar’s use of the three-finger salute from the movie in campaign imagery has gained traction on platforms like TikTok.

This approach aligns with the campaign’s desire to portray Ganjar as a figure of resistance against political deviations.

The Meta Ad Library report indicates significant financial investments in online advertising, prompting discussions about the potential impact on the political landscape.

The emergence of special digital teams, such as the Pride Digital Team for Prabowo-Gibran, highlights the increasing importance of online campaigning in Indonesian politics.

In response to criticisms about potential manipulation and superficiality, campaign spokespeople emphasize the authenticity of their candidates. Angga Putra Fidrian, the spokesperson for Anies Baswedan, underscores the importance of maintaining Anies’s authenticity as an intellectual figure, without compromising his relatability.

Despite the innovative use of social media, concerns arise about the potential superficiality of these campaigns, with fears that candidates may only showcase the lighter, humorous side to appeal to younger generations, neglecting the depth of their political substance.

Andhyta Firselly Utami warns that relying solely on such gimmicks can lead to voters overlooking the controversies and complexities surrounding the candidates. The challenge for campaigns is to strike a balance between engaging content and a responsible presentation of candidates’ qualifications and policies.

Yostinus Tomi Aryanto, Director of Executive Communication Information and spokesperson for Ganjar-Mahfud’s National Campaign Team, emphasizes the need to present the candidates’ vision and mission concisely and comprehensibly to the public.

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