It may sound counter-intuitive, but I think the Indonesia election brought a particularly good spirit to the nation. A successful election has been especially nice for a country that is often deemed backward by the world because of extreme religious practices that spill into politics.

I, for one, am not a political spectator. Politics, like most people I know in my circle, have never excited me.

With the proliferation of mobile phones and social media, even people who are bored by politics have a hard time avoiding it.

Politics has swooped into my country, Indonesia, laced with emotion and goody-goody vibes. It is perfectly captured on video then smoothly published on social media. In fact, all of us young voters (under 40ish of age) started to care when social media started to rise.

The power of content

If social media is the medium, then finding right content is the motivation that can move a nation.

It was still fresh in my mind the first time governor election really sparked interest in me, so much so that I wish I had the region’s ID to be eligible to vote. It was 2012, and the campaign was so exciting. Everything and practically everyone was social media friendly.

We had a YouTube theme song singing praises of the candidates, we had tear-jerking stories from candidates’ previous public services, we had eager supporters who wore matching clothes and minorities were given voice and hope because everything is out there on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Every opinion was out, and everyone had a say.

The more creative candidate won by a landslide, and the region was given a fresh breath of cool, Millennial-conscious leaders, all thanks to a good dose of social media strategy.

The history repeated itself last Wednesday, only at a much larger level.

Again, it’s all in the content.

Take Instagram. You have three different content deliveries under one platform.

You have the posts and the Instagram TV for when you want to put up something and feed the algorithms. Then you have stories, for when you want to put something that’s temporary, just 24 hours.

With these different deliveries, I can only imagine the amount of work a candidate’s Instagram handler must go through to deliver the right message, capture the attention, and actually make people care enough to drag themselves to the voting booth.

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And that’s only Instagram. If you want to be truly present and touch base on every type of person, you need to still be relevant on other social media platforms.

For candidates accounts, most people want to hear about their aspirations for Indonesia from their social media handle. For supporters’ accounts, they seek to increase the buzz for their candidates, presenting facts (and opinions) and wielding out misinformation campaigns

Instagram judges

What I fully realise now is is the true power behind the words and images presented on social media.

In her article for Quartz, Emmy Bengston detailed her experience tweeting for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign against Donald Trump. In one of the paragraphs, she wrote,

“Social media is democratic and ubiquitous—two powerful and dangerous things. It can be a tool for empowerment and connection, or, as we’ve seen with the snowballing revelations on fake news and Russian-sponsored ads, it can become a poisoned water supply.”

I got a first-row seat to how this certain phenomenon unraveled, and how malicious avid supporters can be. On Instagram in particular, people are the judges, jury and executioner. Although most people should be aware that these distant commenters do not have the final say, it sure felt like they had created a universe on its own, and we were only given agency according to their whims.

On the bright side, I noticed that more people care now than ever before. Campaigns with the major theme of “vote for your future” and “guard your vote, don’t let fraud waste it” were swirling and easily reshared by active social media users.

A voter turnout that crossed the 80 per cent number proves that the average Indonesian was engaged and motivated to head to the ballot box.

The overall vibe was definitely “I am not too cool to vote, it is uncool to be ignorant”. Although media accounts were trying their best to stay neutral, it is almost impossible.

Strong opinion and angry internet citizen would easily mob around “sensitive” posts. These passionate crowds would have no problem telling the opposite side to back off.

Again, as a silent spectator, I truly don’t know if the same crowds also carried on their protective instinct in person on the election day. The internet is full of keyboard tough guys, so I doubt it.

The irony lies in that Instagram and other social media platforms have created a monster that craves attention and in doing so released a horde of political drama seekers.

Instagram’s flair for drama

Instagram wants us to see what we want to see.

On Instagram, everybody seems to have a comment for anything. It’s building a persona, how we wish other people to see us.

Even in the most candid and unstaged moments the attention-seeking motives still exist. We’ve been made to care more than we should, and I believed the comment section was invented for that.

I think that could be the case for these eager voters, judging from stories of inked pinky fingers as a sign a person had cast their vote.

Social media thrives on interaction, that’s why they need to afford people to stay longer. That’s why Instagram’s algorithms track our social footprints and find us content that we want to see. It wants to send us things are what we care about, and often that means controversy.

I think the self-proclaimed election guards on Instagram were easily triggered because they stumbled upon the posts that don’t normally appear on their feed. Comments ensued, and that’s how these virtual “politics guards” were born.

They felt it was their job to keep a close eye on taunters and readily berate those who they say cross the line (but, really, who are they to decide?).

In my mind, I can see how Instagram is the one that controls how its users behave instead of the other way around. It made us trapped on a cycle and made us actually enjoy being a part of the cycle — even if the cycle was toxic.

While my country waits for the final results with more drama brewing, I’ll leave you with quotes by Bengston:

“Social media will matter more and more in every election to come. More voters will look to social media as the gateway to everything else—their first stop in learning about candidates and policy and voting. Even more voters will seek out and consume their daily news on social media, maybe surpassing traditional media. Candidates’ distinctive voices and the size of their platforms will determine how effectively they can communicate with voters. But social media is dark and full of terrors: All of 2016’s trends toward polarization (driven by the Facebook algorithm, webs of who-follows-whom influence, and politics itself), fake news, fake accounts, and fake memes will only grow”.

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