Social media has become a powerful tool for younger Indonesian voters to engage with a political system that otherwise leaves them at the margins.
When Hillary Brigitta Lasut was elected to Indonesia’s House of Representatives in 2019, she credited social media for her success.
With 77,000 followers of her official Instagram campaign account and 248,000 followers of her personal account, she received more than 70,000 votes to be elected to represent North Sulawesi.
As a general election approaches in 2024, social media in Indonesia has become an essential way for political parties and politicians to engage with their constituents, increase their popularity — and win votes.
A big part of this effort centres on the youth vote. About 53 percent of Indonesia’s 270 million people fall within the age groups of Generation Z and the Millennials — groups overwhelmingly aged under 40.
With most of this demographic of voting age, there will be fierce competition for young voters ahead of the 2024 general election.
According to the 2020 census, Gen Z, or those born between 1997 and 2012, make up about 26.5 percent of the population, and Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, just under 26 percent.
Young people are also the most active users of social media, which has become an alternative outlet for political participation. That can be through comments, likes or criticism directed at public figures, political elites or influential people, and it has helped younger voices on public affairs and political issues become a bigger part of the debates.
Yet young people remain marginalised in the national political arena in terms of their representation in policymaking.
President Joko Widodo tried to include youth representation by selecting seven high-profile millennials as special staff to participate in regular meetings. But their thoughts or recommendations have not been heard since.
Based on a 2020 survey on social media and political engagement among youth, social media has enabled them to follow and participate in political news.
Out of 233 samples, 58.3 percent of respondents have engaged in online political discussions. Youth respondents were more likely to believe that they could contribute to the political shift of their country. Almost two-thirds — 63 percent — of respondents believed that young people could change the political scenario.
The survey also shows that young people are critical and use their knowledge and intellect to choose candidates. They do not want to give away their vote for nothing: a candidate’s track record and vision for change is important.
A JakPat survey in 2022 found that YouTube was the most frequented platform, used by 82 percent of respondents, followed by Facebook and Instagram at 77 percent, with 56 percent of users 15–29 years old. Among the age group 15–24, TikTok was the most used platform (43 percent), followed by Twitter (30 percent).
Social media might also be driving more young people to vote. According to one survey, Millennials made up 35 to 40 percent of voters in the 2019 election, or about 80 million out of 185 million voters nationwide.
There are various political activities where youth activists shape their political views through social media: 68 percent of youth respondents said they like to participate in online forums, because it is easy to contribute to the discussions of political affairs.
Interest in politics is also important for tracking political activism among youth, who are often accused of political apathy. An overwhelming 84.5 percent of poll respondents were “highly interested” in politics and participating in online debates, with only 15.5 percent “fairly interested”. Respondents were also more interested in following national news (47.7 percent) than international news (29.5 percent) or local and regional news (23.3 percent).
With young people in Indonesia frequently engaged in online politics, their participation in the 2024 election could see them become active political content producers.
Social media and peers are two significant sources for political preference for the students. In contrast to older generations, who often followed their parents’ political preferences when voting, younger generations rely on social media and the influence of peers to make up their minds.
Rachmah Ida is a professor in the Department of Media and Communication, Airlangga University, Indonesia. Her main research areas are media, culture and society.