The Rise of Digital Citizenship amidst Indonesia’s Democratic Regression
Lecturer Media and Democracy

(Diponegoro University, Indonesia)

Hashtags KPK

Hashtags of protests against the government agenda on revision anti-corruption law.

Save KPK means “Save the anti-corruption body”.


Since 1998 Indonesia underwent a political revolution marked by the forced resignation of President Suharto regime (called the New Order, 1966-1998) after ruling Indonesia in authoritarian manner for more than three decades. Since then, the country experienced a rapid process of democratization which occurred at many levels of its political life. Institutionally, regular free and fair elections have been implemented, the government is no longer able to ban the press, and the constitution has been amended to explicitly guaranty the protection of human rights. In this regard, scholars have argued that the process of democratization has impacted citizens’ political agency. Citizens have become more aware of their rights, they have more strongly affirmed their identities (of class, gender, race) and are more involved into political participation. The three aforementioned characteristics deeply contrast with the limited citizenship that prevailed during the New Order, which emphasized the obligations of citizens towards the state (Berenschot and Klinken 2019). However, little has been known on how and to what extent this rise of citizenship and liberalization has been incorporated by Indonesian citizens. Their awareness of this liberal trend is reflected in the discourses circulated in social media.

It is noteworthy that Indonesia is the world 4th largest Internet user, and among the biggest six social media users. This 3rd largest democratic country in the world has the 3rd largest number of Facebook users, the 4th largest in Instagram and the 6th largest in Twitter ( Considering these figures, Internet and social media have impacted many aspects of Indonesian politics, including its democracy. It has been reflected by an abundant literature that can be categorized in two big schools of thought. The first school argues that Internet has been supporting democracy through various ways by empowering civil society movement against corruption (Lim 2013; Suwana 2019), enabling the emergence of alternative leaders from the grassroots (Tapsell 2017), and facilitating campaign against environmental destruction (Kurniawan and Rye 2014: Wijayanto et al. 2020; Suwana 2021). The second school argues that the Internet has been seen as fostering the ongoing democratic regression through, among other things: the rise of tribal nationalism (Lim 2017), the spread of disinformation (Saraswati 2021), public opinion manipulation for supporting problematic government policies (Wijayanto and Berenschot 2021), monitoring and controlling citizens (Juniarto 2022), and weakening of political opposition (Wijayanto 2021).

Apart from the abundant literature, there is still a limited number of studies focusing on how the Internet has impacted the idea and practice of citizenship in Indonesia. It concerns both digital studies as well as citizenship studies in Indonesia. As argued by Isin and Rupert (2020), at the global level, the figure of the citizen has been absent in the literature on digital studies and, on the other hand, the subject of cyberspace has been absent in the literature on citizenship studies. In this regard, Indonesia is not an exception. Against this backdrop, study documenting how social media have facilitated the rise of digital citizenship seems crucial.

This paper aims to fill the gap by examining two cases of online civil protest in two problematic policies: the revision of law on the Indonesia anti-corruption body (KPK) in 2019 and the passage of the Omnibus law on job creation in 2020. By combining analysis of social media analysis and digital ethnography, the author argues that: first, there has been a massive wave of right awareness in the minds of citizens in Indonesia as reflected in citizens’ conversations about the two policies above. Second, digital acts of citizenship have mushroomed in Indonesia thanks to the digital revolution and the emergence of social media, as reflected in the citizens’ protests towards the aforementioned policies. Thus, this paper will be the first attempt to document on a large scale the emergence of new forms of citizenship, namely “digital citizenship”, after the collapse of the New Order authoritarian regime in 1998.

Defining digital citizenship

In arguing about the rise of digital citizenship in Indonesia, this paper will refer to Isin and Rupert (2020), who see digital citizenship as a set of acts performed in the cyberspace through which a political subject experiences various processes of subjectivation enabling him to become citizen. Throughout these processes of subjectivation, he becomes aware about his rights and is empowered to claim them. In the words of Isin and Rupert (2020: 61):

“we are proposing that becoming digital citizens in cyberspace involves making digital right claims. Through digital acts and making right claims, digital citizen subjects are brought into being.”

The authors also operationalize the concept of citizenship as doing digital acts which can manifest in the form of speech acts or what they call “doing things with words” (p. 3). In this case, they more specifically distinguish digital acts into three categories, namely callings, closings and openings. Callings is an act of summoning citizen subjects which can manifest in the form of participating, connecting and sharing. Openings can be seen as those possibilities that create new ways of saying and enacting rights i.e. being citizen subjects. It manifests in the form of witnessing, hacking and communing. Closings, by contrast, contract and reduce the possibilities of becoming citizen subjects. In this regard, closings can take forms as, among others: filtering, tracking and normalizing. The cases studies discussed in the following sections can be highlighted by the processes framed by Isin and Rupert’s theory.

Civil Protest in Twitter against the weakening of the anticorruption agency (KPK)

One of the most significant events amidst the recent democratic regression in Indonesia was the revision of the bill on the law on Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on 17 September 2019. Even before the government passed the Bill, it sparked protest from many parts of civil society—including academics, students, non-governmental organizations and KPK members themselves—as the bill was seen to drastically weaken the anti-corruption body’s autonomy and mandate. The Bill sparked public criticism since it was first discussed in the house of representatives on 5 September 2019, not long after the 2019 election result was announced officially by the Indonesian electoral commission. It was reported that the discussion took only twenty minutes, then sparking public suspicion. Moreover, the short duration of the discussion was considered as enough for the legislative members to officially introduce it in the agenda for legislation process. The bill stipulated that the KPK would be no longer an independent institution but be placed under the executive body. Furthermore, the KPK would be controlled by a supervisory council, whose permission was required for executing covert investigations of suspects, even though this tapping had made the KPK successful in sending many corruptors to prison.

Following the announcement of the bill, the digital public sphere, especially Twitter, saw a wave of conversations on the topic, as seen below. The peak occurred only one week before the bill's ratification in parliament, with the number of tweets reaching more than a half-million in just seven days:

Figure 1

Figure 1. Online conversations about the KPK Law revision, 10-17 September 2019,

produced by Drone Emprit Academic, 2019.

As argued by Wijayanto and Maizar (2021), there was an online propaganda in the Internet to support the bill’s revision, however it is noteworthy that there was also online reaction to this propaganda. The reaction can be seen in the following picture:

Figure 2

Figure 2. Social Network Analysis (SNA) of Twitter conversations on the KPK Law revision,

produced by Drone Emprit Academic, 2019.

From the picture above, it can be seen that a large group of citizens opposed the revision online. It was conducted by organic social media accounts, such as three civil society activists who are also leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama, one of the biggest Islamic organization in Indonesia: @Anita Wahid, @Alissa Wahid, and @Saciv Ali.

Civil Protest against the Bill on Omnibus Law in Twitter

Another controversial policy enacted by the Indonesian government was the passing of the Omnibus Law on 5th October 2020. This law was actually a law on job creation but became popularized as Omnibus Law, as it compiled several existing laws into one. It triggered a wave of public criticism and protest, not least in the digital public sphere. Controversial points in the Omnibus Law and its subsidiary Job Creation Law include changes in local minimum wages and layoff rules; eased licensing for the employment of foreign workers; tighter restrictions to community involvement in the preparation of Environmental Impact Assessments and the loss of opportunities to contest environmental permits; and changes in regional government authority to the profit of the central government. Besides the contents of the Omnibus Law, much of the criticism also focused on the process of its hasty ratification in parliament, which was initially scheduled for 8th October. Critics decried irregularities in the process, if not abuse of power by the ruling coalition, which provoked mass demonstrations across the country for the two weeks after.

The controversy was no less noisy on social media. From 1st to 16th October 2020, as shown in Figure 3, discussions related to the Omnibus Law and the Job Creation Law reached 2,689,034 interactions on social media, which vastly outnumbered the volume of discussion in mainstream media accounts. As argued by Sastramidjaja and Wijayanto (2022), there was an online propaganda in the Internet to support the bill’s revision, however it is noteworthy that there was also online reaction to the propaganda. Figure 4 shows a Social Network Analysis (SNA) visualization of the conversation on Twitter on 16th October. It suggests that the actual volume of the supporters of the laws still outweighs its opponents. We can also see from the SNA that the interactions between the opponents are much more natural than the suporters, who seem to talk among themselves. The media kernels listening tool found several famous critical individual and group activists, such as Andreas Harsono, Laode M Syarif, Susi Pudji Astuti, Ridwan Kamil, Agus Yudhoyono, Rangga Widigda, Said Didu, Hidayat Nur Wahid, Tifatul Sembiring, and Green Peace. They interacted with each other and mingled dynamically with various mainstream media accounts, like CNN Indonesia,,,, Matanajwa and KompasTV.

Figure 3

Figure 3. The volume of conversations on the Omnibus Law,

Drone Emprit Academic, 2020.

Figure 4

Figure 4. Social Network Analysis on the Omnibus Law,

Drone Emprit Academic, 2020.

From the day of the law’s ratification on 5th October and during five additional days, the online narrative around the Omnibus Law was dominated by its opponents, with the use of the two hashtags #MosiTidakPercaya and #TolakOminbusLaw. The massive reach of these two hashtags can largely be attributed to young netizens who call themselves the “K-poppers” generation and named their anti-Omnibus law movement “K-poppers strike back”. They joined forces with students and workers who protested in the streets and social media, together creating a mass online movement on Twitter, which peaked on 6th October, reaching a volume of up to half a million tweets. The volume gradually dwindled but remained high over the next days, to some 200 thousand on 10th October. The most popular hashtag rejecting the Omnibus Law, #MosiTidakPercaya, reached the seventh place with only 558 tweets.

The Protest as Digital Act

Referring to Isin and Rupert (2020), the two aforementioned protests can be seen as digital acts, when put in the perspective to digital citizenship, which consists in participating, connecting, sharing, and witnessing. This can be seen from the content of the protest the citizens have posted in Twitter. For example, in 14th September 2019, Anita Wahid wrote:

“They said there is Taliban (Islamic hardliners) in KPK, so just ban this anti- corruption body.…be careful, that’s exactly how they weakened KPK”.

The posting of Anita Wahid can be seen as an act of witnessing, which Isin and Rupert (2020) defined as: “making rights claims in the sense that they enact a right to witness an injustice and share it (so that the world may know) as both political and ethical act” (p. 130). In the twit above, it can be seen that Anita expressed her witnessing of a situation that she perceived as an injustice. She witnessed that there was a serious attempt to direct public opinion for decreasing the credibility of the anti-corruption body by narrating it as the Islamic hardliners. When its credibility is decreased, the KPK is easily weakened.


This article has examined the emergence of digital citizenship in the case of civil protest in the cyber space towards two problematic policies in Indonesia: bill on revision of KPK law in 2019 and bill on Omnibus Law in 2020. Combining social media analysis on millions of twits and digital ethnography of prominent Twitter accounts reveal how citizens as political subject have performed digital acts in the cyber space. These acts consist of: participating, sharing, connecting and witnessing. This finding is important in the context of the ongoing democratic regression (Hadiz 2017; Warburton & Aspinall 2019; Aminuddin 2020) and the “authoritarian turn” (Wijayanto 2019), for which the increasing power of oligarchy has been an underlying cause (Warburton & Aspinall 2019; Wijayanto et al. 2020). In this regard, this article shows that the consolidation of oligarchic power occurring soon after the 2019 election was actually not without challenges. It gives a ray of light amidst the abundant literature on the ongoing democratic regression in Indonesia by showing the intensity and extent of citizen social mobilizations.

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