The Social Network in Indonesia

By Suzanne Slattery

Despite the Indonesian post-election tension last summer, Joko Widodo was sworn in as the new president of Indonesia on Oct. 20. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott were among the foreign dignitaries who attended the inauguration festivities.

Known for his humble background and being a man of the people, Widodo plans to focus on improving the country’s education and healthcare sectors. While he has joked that he looks more like a street food vendor than a head of state, the president had a full schedule of meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Thailand Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-Ocha and President Obama, reported The New York Times. But what really attracted the media’s attention was Widodo’s meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo

Indonesian President Joko Widodo

Around 65 million Indonesians use Facebook today, according to The Wall Street Journal. This figure is impressive when you consider the country’s Internet usage last year. A steadily increasing number of Indonesians have been logging on over the years, according to the International Telecommunication Union, the U.N.’s specialized agency for information and communication technologies. In 2013, almost 16 percent of the population, 39.5 million individuals or a little more than half of the country’s Facebook users today, had access to the Internet.

While Internet usage steadily climbs in the country, social media was integral to this year’s presidential elections. Similar to President Obama’s campaign strategy in 2008, Indonesia’s presidential campaign was fought and won around intense social media rallying.  Al Jazeera reported that Indonesia is a social media capital of the world and the “real battle [campaigning] is on digital media.”

With Indonesians embracing social media websites, it’s not surprising that a meeting between the new president and Facebook’s mastermind would make the news. The BBC Indonesia reported on a press release from Widodo’s office, in which the president said he discussed with Zuckerberg the ability of Facebook to help drive the economy, Internet taxation and the use of Facebook during the campaign. The story was noticeably absent from BBC Indonesia’s English counterpart, however.

The Wall Street Journal posted several pictures of Widodo and Zuckerberg. The paper highlighted more of a partnership, saying “the two spoke about how they could work together to help improve access to the Internet.” It also mentioned Zuckerberg dressed up in a suit and tie, saying it was “an usual” outfit from his typical jeans and sneakers. The Gulf Times, a newspaper based out of Qatar, used language that implied less of an equal partnership. The article described Zuckerberg as “pressing” Widodo to improve Internet access in the country. Zuckerberg said the world was missing out on innovation and culture from Indonesia because it is not as digitally connected, reported the Gulf Times. It also commented on Zuckerberg’s attire, saying he was without his usual hoodie and sneakers.

A local news source, the Jakarta Post, reported that Zuckerberg applauded Widodo for his impromptu visits with regular Indonesians. The article said the Facebook CEO thanked the president for using Facebook during his campaign and offered a new program that would allow him to connect digitally with Indonesians. The article also used the affectionate nickname for Widodo, “Jokowi” and did not comment on Zuckerberg’s attire.

The New York Times did not report on the event, but smaller papers on the U.S. West Coast, where Zuckerberg resides, picked up the story, including San Jose Mercury News and SF Gate. While most of the stories were brief, it will be an interesting story to follow as the new president begins to dive into improvement initiatives and as Facebook continues to seek to tap into new markets and users.

Photo Credit: Ahmad Syauki (Uyeah) from Flickr

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