Indonesian online activists gather for change

Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - The question of whether social media can play a major role in bringing about societal change, especially at a time when Facebook and Twitter seem to have become hotbeds for self-centred narcissists, hate-mongers and gossipers, is being met with growing scepticism.

But that has not deterred renowned human rights activist Usman Hamid from advocating the Digital Nation Movement, also known as Dinamo, a forum for online activists who still believe that signing a petition or even liking a Facebook page is as powerful as rallying on the streets to protest against injustice and defend the oppressed.

More than 250 people gathered at Soehanna Hall, the Energy Building, in South Jakarta on Saturday to join the forum. They were mostly people who signed online petitions on the change.org Indonesia website.

"We are here gathering in this forum to build a community of change," said Usman, who is the website's Indonesia campaigner.

The movement was initiated in collaboration with Indonesian Future Leaders (IFL), a nonprofit organisation that focuses on youth empowerment and social voluntarism; the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras); and Leaf Plus, a Jakarta based environmental consulting company.

Usman said he decided to launch the forum after finding out that the number of change.org Indonesia members had grown from 8,000 to 140,000 in only six months. Since it was launched nine months ago, the website has claimed several achievements.

One such achievement was when Anita Wahid, the daughter of the late president Abdurrahman Wahid, made a petition to back the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) during its standoff with the National Police following the former's move to name a police general a corruption suspect. The petition received 15,037 signatures.

Musician Melanie Subono, who also came to the event, was quick to make a call for the House of Representatives to not endorse Daming Sunusi as a Supreme Court justice for making insulting remarks to rape victims. More than 10,000 Internet users supported her cause by signing the petition over the course of only one day, and the number is growing.

In June last year, Melanie won a campaign that forced Migrant Workers Task Force chairman Maftuh Basyuni to apologise for his remarks about abused migrant workers.

In 2012, the "Stop supporting travelling dolphin circuses" campaign, which was supported by the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JANN), garnered 91,591 signatures. As a result, the website says, Hero Group retail giant has announced that it does not support animal cruelty and will no longer allow the dolphin circus to use the parking lots of any of its stores throughout Indonesia for shows.

"These victories are not because of change.org, but because all of us act as dynamos, generators, for social change," Usman said. Dinamo is the Indonesian word for dynamo.

Arief Aziz, co-founder of online community TedxJakarta, said that Indonesia had a formidable source of people power that could foster social change. "We are strong," he said.

One of Dinamo's supporters, Ratna Wulandaru, 28, said she was attracted to the forum because she believed ordinary citizens could help bring about social change.

"For me, the online petition is a tool to change the situation," she said. "And this forum is an effort to unite ordinary people who really care about social problems in Indonesia."

She had high hopes for social movements through social media, although she was unsure whether the petitions were really effective. "When it goes viral, they will eventually listen to the people. The government needs this kind of pressure."

Aditya Kadarisman, a 30-year-old digital manager of a private company, decided to go to the event out of curiosity and without invitation. He found the idea of uniting people under one forum interesting, although he deemed it too late. "The movement [on Twitter and Facebook] is already there as we are moved to contribute to fixing social problems."

He could not hide his scepticism about online movements. "When something happens, people easily put it on their Twitter and Facebook pages. We have many fake accounts and you cannot tell the intention behind those messages on Twitter."

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