Government and governance, Law, Science and technology | Southeast Asia

2 June 2021

Indonesia’s low ranking in a Digital Civility Index released by Microsoft shows that its government must do more to develop its citizens’ digital literacy, Angga Priancha writes.

In March, an Indonesian badminton team was forced to withdraw from the All England 2021 Championship, sparking frustration that flamed into rage online in Indonesia. This led to The Badminton World Federation (BWF)’s social media accounts being attacked by dozens of comments from Indonesian citizens.

This is not the first occurrence of poor behaviour from Indonesians on the Internet. From the relentless trolling of Microsoft’s Instagram account, to targeting the country of Vanuatu, to online brigades accosting individual influencers like Dayana from Kazakhstan and GothamChess, a prominent chess creator on YouTube, Indonesians have shown they are willing to display anger on the Internet with little hesitation.

Importantly, there is a pattern to what makes Indonesians online upset. Usually, the victim of their wrath has apparently offended Indonesian national pride. The attacks are a way to express nationalism, or defend their country from some perceived slight.

Some argue that this means the militant enthusiasm of these Indonesian ‘netizens’ are an asset, even something to be proud of. Others point out how much of this behaviour is unacceptable, rude, and even dangerous, regardless of its intentions.

Microsoft, for one, seems to be on the latter side. This year, it launched a Digital Civility Index Report that ranked Indonesia 29th of the 32 countries analysed and last among ASEAN countries.

The report flagged important issues, such as vulnerability to hoaxes and fake news, cyberbullying, and even more serious cyber-crime. Also, due to its large Internet-using population and high levels of online activity, the behaviour of Indonesian citizens online may even affect international and regional Internet stability.

If we look at statistics, Indonesians were the fourth-largest Internet users worldwide in December 2019, with more than 171 million users. This is only behind China with 854 million, India with 560 million, and the United States with 313 million.

More on this: Human rights in the digital age

In 2020, the number of Indonesian netizens grew again, and reached the number of 196 million usersAnother statistic shows that the average time an Indonesian with access to the Internet spends online each day is more than eight hours. This put Indonesia’s Internet users in eighth position for daily Internet use worldwide.

From these statistics, it should be obvious to policymakers that they must do something about the significant impact of Indonesian netizens on overall internet traffic. Indonesian netizens can easily influence international Internet trends when they behave en masse.

One such example was the GothamChess case. The content creator matched in an online game with an Indonesian player Dewa Kipas during a stream. He then flagged with the website they were playing on that it seemed the Indonesian player was cheating, and the man’s account was reviewed and banned.

The player’s son made a post rallying against this, and large numbers of Indonesians began brigading GothamChess videos and his social media. This chain of events ended with a friendly match between Dewa Kipas and Indonesian Woman Grandmaster Irene Sukandar with the goal of showing his true capabilities in a live match.

The match was live-streamed through the YouTube channel of Indonesian prominent content creator Deddy Corbuzier, which resulted in one of the most-watched chess streams in history.

More on this: Online rights and wrongs

This kind of event shows that the report’s findings – that the behaviour of Indonesian netizens could have a significant impact on business, market policy, and digital activity as a whole – is plausible, and should be addressed.

This very high level of uncritical engagement with the Internet also represents a significant vulnerability for Indonesian civil society. Such a large and active number of users classified as having a low digital civility index, hoaxes, scams, digital bullying, and the like could easily proliferate in Indonesia without further intervention.

The key problem here is digital literacy, which government policy can help to solve. From a security perspective, a large Internet-using population with low digital literacy skills carries huge risk.

Because these people having little understanding of personal data protection, among other things, they are vulnerable to hoaxes and scams that could affect Indonesia significantly, and also have a higher chance of being drawn into hate speech by fake news.

The Indonesian Government seems to be aware of the situation thus recently launched the National Digital Literacy Program this May. The National Digital Literacy Program is built on four pillars: digital media culture, safety, ethics, and competence.

However, this program cannot solve this issue alone, and must be part of a clear and strategic long-term plan

Policymakers should make sure the policy to develop Indonesian digital literacy is equipping ordinary people with skills like fact-checking, and encouraging critical thinking on the Internet. This can build a sustainable online culture, create a set of a positive norms, and keep Indonesians safe online.

If the proper norms and culture can be established by such a program, it is plausible to say that there will be a rise in Indonesia’s digital civility index score and, by extension, a rise in digital safety in Indonesia and the region.


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