Why ‘Buzzers’ are a Problem
NOT every netizen who openly supports government policy is a ‘buzzer’—social media propagandists.
NOT every netizen who openly supports government policy is a ‘buzzer’—social media propagandists. Supporting President Joko Widodo on social media is not a crime that should be concealed. In fact, support—and also criticism—is a part of public participation in open political discussion.
Neither are influencers, who openly urge their followers on social media to support this person or buy that product. Influencers, who in general are public figures such as musicians, athletes, academics or even politicians, have reputations that need protecting. They maintain their good names so that they are followed by their millions of fans on social media.
Buzzers who cause problems are those that operate in the dark. Under the guise of freedom of expression, they share information without showing themselves. Hiding behind anonymous accounts, they spread disinformation and opinions without verification or confirmation.
The owners of social media accounts that spread information for commercial use without openly marking their content as advertisement can also be categorized as people who cloud the waters. Without transparency or accountability, their content has the potential to deceive the public.
We still remember the polarization on the Internet in the run up to the revisions of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) Law at the end of last year. Instead of discussing the effectiveness of the KPK’s work in eradicating corruption, these buzzers spread rumors about the KPK being a nest of Islamic radicals. They also spread hoaxes about the integrity of KPK investigators and leaders to give the impression that the institution lacked credibility in battling corruption no matter who was involved.
Recently, the signs of these buzzers have been apparent in the campaign to support the job creation bill. A number of manipulative hashtags have been quietly promoted so that the people do not question this proposed omnibus law. They hope that this will drown out the critical voices which make an issue of the bargaining position of workers or the potential for environmental damage in the name of economic development. This type of manipulation of public discussion cannot be allowed to spread unrestrained.
Unfortunately, the efforts of activists, academics and journalists to confront these buzzers have been countered with hacking and intimidation. According to SAFEnet—a network defending freedom of expression in Southeast Asia—there have been at least 30 examples of digital intimidation and hacking of social media accounts of activists, media and academics since April. Not a single person responsible has been arrested by the police.
This trend is increasingly concerning if it is true that there are elements of the authorities behind these buzzers. Last week, the Indonesian Corruption Watch examined central government spending and discovered indications of Rp1.29 trillion for a number of digital activities in the period 2017-2020. An investigation by this magazine also uncovered the role of important people within the Palace in the buzzers campaign in the last few years.
It is time we realized that the existence of these buzzers damages democracy. If we agree that the main principle of politics is the involvement of the people, this includes openness and public examination. A politics that has legitimacy is a politics that passes this public test in the form of criticism. When the buzzers are orchestrated to attack those active in criticizing the government, a serious ethical problem arises.
The closer these buzzers are to the center of government, the more dangerous they are. They are at the center of political power, but lack the courage to appear in the public spotlight. The public does not know who they are, what they are doing, on whose orders they are acting or where their funding comes from.
Once again, these buzzers are not ordinary netizens with clear identities and are active and rational in their discussions of public policy. We all need this type of netizen. Defending and criticizing those in power is the right of every citizen and is normal practice in an active democracy. However, this support or criticism only has ethical value if it is carried out in the open and with full responsibility.
A good government should work openly in the public spotlight. Only by accepting criticism can it strengthen its legitimacy. A bad government is allergic to the public spotlight. Through numerous ways, it tries to muzzle opposing voices. Perhaps ending criticism can give it justification, but it will never give it legitimacy.