In a recent book chapter Nalaka Gunawardene and Chanuka Wattegama concluded that they had not, at least in Colombo in 2011.* Now the question is being asked again, in social media savvy Indonesia.
But do retweets, likes and pageviews translate into support on election day?
Conversations that start online radiate beyond the mostly urban, affluent users of social media – who are “social influencers in their environment, online and offline”, said Yose Rizal, the co-founder of PoliticaWave, an Indonesian social media monitoring group that is consulting for Jokowi’s campaign.
Social media activism has already had off-line effects on the country’s politics.
In 2012, Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) began investigating a corruption case involving high-level police officials. But the national police refused to cooperate with the investigation. Enraged Twitter users created the hashtag #SaveKPK, urging President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to intervene and side with the anti-corruption watchdog – which he did, claiming his decision was influenced by the brouhaha on social media.
That same year, Jokowi – the mayor of a city in Central Java who came from a humble background – was the surprise winner of Jakarta’s governor’s race, portraying himself as a fresh face who would clean up corruption and run the megalopolis more efficiently.
“One of the reasons Jokowi could become a national figure like [he is] today is because of social media,” said political analyst Yohanes Sulaiman. “When he ran for the governor of Jakarta, the social media was buzzed with him: ‘You are somebody new, you are somebody different from the regular bureaucrats, the corrupt officials.’”
* I disagreed with the Gunawardene and Wattegama conclusion and told them why. But having been involved in the campaign, I am not a dispassionate observer.