Saturday, May 27, 2017

Is this a time of living dangerously for netizens in Indonesia?

Indonesian hardline Muslims react after hearing a verdict on Jakarta's first non-Muslim and ethnic-Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama's blasphemy trial at outside court in Jakarta, Indonesia May 9, 2017. Source: Reuters/Beawiharta
2017-05-09T050356Z_85491882_RC1BD991AF10_RTRMADP_3_INDONESIA-POLITICS-940x580  2017-05-09T050356Z_85491882_RC1BD991AF10_RTRMADP_3_INDONESIA-POLITICS-940x580
febrian-personal-stuff  febrian-personal-stuff
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WEDNESDAY morning. It was just like any other ordinary working day… until I flipped open my laptop and got online.
“Someone” showed me an old photograph from when I was still doing my graduate study about media and journalism.
It was a picture of me during a presentation about the case of Alexander Aan, the 33 year-old former civil servant who went to jail because he had done something very dangerous: sharing his thoughts through social media.
Aan was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison on June 2012. He was released from prison in January 2014 after serving more than 19 months.
But what exactly was that “very dangerous thing” Aan had done?
He had posted a status update on his Facebook page questioning the existence of God.
“God does not exist,” he had written. “If God exist why do bad things happen?” Aan continued, according to The Daily Telegraph. “There should only be good things if God is merciful.”
Yeap. That’s it. That’s all he wrote.
Although this is happened back in 2012, the photograph made me think about how much Indonesia – a nation known for humility and kindness – has progressed since then, in terms of tolerance and free speech on social media.
But as the recent Jakarta gubernatorial poll has shown, I guess it is safe to conclude that things have only gone from bad to worse.
It’s been over a month since polls closed, but you can still see its effects on social media.
Just look at what happened to Afi Nihaya Faradisa, a high school student from Banyuwangi.
On her Facebook account, which has more than 460,000 followers, she often writes about diversity and religious harmony in Indonesia. People typically praise her for her mature views, although many also condemn and bully her.
But when she aired her opinions about the Jakarta election, the resultant backlash was alarming. Her account was even suspended because people who disagreed with her reported her views to Facebook. She even received a death threat from unknown people who disliked her writing on Facebook.
The case of Willis Canteen in Australia is worth a ponder too.
The owner of the eatery, accused of spewing racist and offensive remarks about the Jakarta contest, was forced to face the wrath of netizens who disagreed with his views. They called for a boycott and started posting negative reviews on his restaurant.
Talk is that the outlet may even be facing bankruptcy because of this. But here’s the unfortunate irony: Some clients say the Willis Canteen’s operator is warm and polite in person to those of different races and religions.
Daniel Goleman describes this increase in inappropriate or uncharacteristic online behaviours as “cyberdisinhibition. Cyberdisinhibition, he says, occurs mainly because of the anonymous nature of the Internet. Individuals may behave in ways that contradict normative behavior when they do not identify with a particular online community and are free to leave without desire to return (Zimmerman, 2012).
But there’s a problem with this: We’re never really anonymous when we’re online. You can never completely erase your digital footprint. Somewhere out there in the world wide web, something you said or did years ago still remains on record.
Maybe, just maybe, if more of us understood this, we could be wiser in how we use social media.
We don’t have to be angry or offensive towards opinions we disagree with.
There’s no need for prison for the next Aan or a death threat to another Afi or even bankruptcy for the next Willies Canteen.
Perhaps if this is how we approach social media, the Internet will become a less hostile and dangerous place.
On Wednesday, as I finished my work for the day, I found myself wondering: Should I close all my social media accounts? Or should I leave them be and take extra care not write something that would land me in prison?
But then I realised, as a writer, I rely heavily on reading and understanding the thoughts and words of others.
Social media is, therefore, an extremely valuable tool for me. I am, like much of the world today, admittedly dependent on it.
So maybe next time, I guess.
After all… guess who was that “someone” who showed me the old photograph that prompted this essay?
It was Facebook.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent