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Cablegate: Social Media Drives Public Engagement

DE RUEHJA #1951/01 3291045
O 251045Z NOV 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


REF: A. STATE 120172

1. (U) SUMMARY: As its urban middle class goes online in greater
numbers, and with the rapid spread of mobile computing, social
networking is a potent means of political expression in Indonesia.
This month's outpouring of support for two former anti-corruption
officials who saw 1.6 million Indonesian Facebook members express
their support and spurred the government to action. This increased
internet connectivity can also be a force in the future to tackle
persistent challenges that Indonesia has faced for generations,
including economic development, education, corruption and freedom of
expression. By actively engaging with this emerging wave of leaders
and online activists, the United States, as the originator of these
technologies, is in a unique position to change its image in the
world's most populous Muslim nation for an entire generation over
the next decade. END SUMMARY.

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2. (U) Despite only having ten percent of the population able to
connect to the internet in Indonesia, (roughly 10-15% of the
population, about 30 million people), Indonesians are now using
e-mail, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking to
express themselves and make their voices heard politically. These
active internet users are in their mid-twenties to early thirties,
professionally employed, and live in major urban areas like Jakarta,
Medan, Surabaya, Balikpapan or Jogjakarta. In more remote or less
developed parts of the Archipelago, the combination of the slow
connection speeds and high expense is a major stumbling block to
people getting online, but the recent proliferation of hand-held
mobile devices (such as Blackberries and iPhones) that can access
the internet has helped spur the spread of social networking tools
beyond just major cities.

3. (U) The most powerful example of the impact of social media in
Indonesian politics was this month's tremendous outpouring of
support online for the ex-Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK)
deputies currently under investigation. In just nine days, more than
one million members of the Facebook social network registered their
support of former KPK deputies, Bibit Samad Rianto and Chandra M.
Hamzah. The Facebook fan page launched as a political protest to the
National Police's arrest of the two former KPK deputies now has over
1.6 million members. Many commentators attribute the reaction by
the Indonesian government on this issue to the strong social media
support shown by everyday Indonesians.

4. (U) Another prime example of how Indonesia's "net-roots" are
developing is the case of Prita Mulyasari, a 32-year old Jakarta
housewife who complained about her hospital treatment in an email to
a few friends. In May of this year she was charged with defamation
and jailed after the hospital took legal action when her comments
were widely circulated on the internet. Facing six years in jail
and huge fines if convicted on criminal charges, people all over
Indonesia reacted to her case by forming a Facebook fan page that in
days drew over 100,000 supporters calling for her release. [Note: An
estimated 9-10 million Indonesian are on Facebook] Despite being in
the middle of his campaign, President Yudhoyono urged the courts to
be lenient and his rival, Megawati Sukarnoputri, visited Ms.
Mulyasari in jail. The online public outcry also prompted the
lame-duck parliament to hold hearings on the subject. Shortly
thereafter, Ms. Mulyasari was released from custody. While the case
is still pending, it demonstrates how the Indonesian public reacted
strongly to a potential infringement on the freedom of speech
online, and how this is a force that can spur their political
leaders to act.

5. (U) During both this year's Indonesian presidential and
parliamentary elections, for the first time major parties and
candidates used online technologies to conduct portions of their
campaigns, through websites, blogs, Facebook fan pages and online
advertising on popular internet news and information portals. In
fact, all three major presidential campaigns met publicly with
prominent political bloggers to sway their support during the run-up
to the general election.

6. (U) Embassy Jakarta continues to focus on developing the ability
of regular Indonesians to get online and express themselves as
citizen journalists. With an estimated one million active bloggers
in Indonesia, this year the Embassy was the major sponsor for the
third annual national bloggers gathering, which included a series of
blogging workshops in ten cities across Indonesia in three months
before the event. Working together with American Corners, the
response for the blogging workshops was overwhelming. Although we
estimated a target participation of 300 students, actual
participation was more than 1,400, and came from all walks of life,
including government officials, housewives, teachers, and

JAKARTA 00001951 002 OF 002

businessmen, all eager to learn how to blog. Additionally, at many
venues, people had to be turned away due to lack of capacity, and
sometimes we had participants tripled-up on available computers.

At the national blogging conference itself -- which grew in size by
50% from last year -- Prita Mulyasari, was a featured speaker, and
spoke on a panel that discussed online ethics. A telling anecdote
was when Voice of American Indonesian Service head Norman Goodman
introduced himself to a young blogger and entrepreneur, who had no
idea what VOA stood for. When Mr. Goodman followed up and asked if
he watched television or radio, the blogger responded that he gets
information exclusively from online sources.

While nearly a thousand people came by the U.S. Embassy booth, and
our sponsorship generated nearly 150 feature stories in newspapers,
radio and on television, it is clear that the emerging class of
online activists and "digerati" are much harder to reach through
traditional media. It is only through active partnerships with
bloggers and the harnessing of social media to conduct public
diplomacy that the Embassy Jakarta can reach this key group of
Indonesian opinion-makers. Currently Embassy Jakarta has nearly
20,000 fans of its Facebook page -- more than any other U.S. Embassy
worldwide, and just 6,000 fewer than the State Department itself.
While this is just one measure of effectiveness, it shows that
Embassy Jakarta has the capacity to successfully engage Indonesian
public using new media.

7. (U) With the rapid adoption of online communication and social
networking emerging throughout Indonesia, the U.S. needs to look for
ways to adapt to the rapidly-changing society here in terms of
developing new and innovative ways to connect to youth and the
general public. One important new initiative is the proposed
American Place, a 21st century public diplomacy outreach venue that
engages Indonesian young people on issues and areas they find
important and interesting. Because the United States is a global
leader in information technology products and services, American
Place will use technology as a tool to attract customers, educate
them about the U.S. and American products, ideals, and values, and
connect them with young Americans.

In order to keep American Place dynamic, interesting, and
interactive, we encourage our customers to share their American
Place experience through social media. In order to make American
Place unique from anywhere else in Jakarta, we will partner with
American corporations, NGOs, and museums to provide content and
programming. We envision private sector high-tech partners such as
Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and others will use American Place to
showcase their latest product or technology. By highlighting
American leadership in technology and using that technology as a
tool to engage young Indonesians, we will reach a new generation of
future leaders in ways never before explored.

8. (U) The past year has shown tremendous growth of social media in
Indonesian society. It has arrived as a viable means of organizing
for political protest and civil action. These examples of its use
indicate that the growth of mobile computing and membership in
social media has allowed the general public to augment traditional
forms of personal and political expression. If this is the case with
just ten percent of the public connected to the internet, it is fair
to say that future development of this sector over the next decade
can translate into technology as a strong catalyst for solidifying
Indonesian democratic gains and provide growth for other critical
areas of development.

9. (U) This cable serves as Post's response to State 120172.


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