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Population: 278 million
Internet penetration: 76%
17th June 2024

As the world’s third largest democracy geared up for the 2024 general elections, the use of social media as a source of news continued to outpace print and TV. The 14 February election of Indonesian Defence Minister and former Kopassus (Special Forces) head Prabowo Subianto, along with the looming implementation of a new Criminal Code, raised fears of both illiberal populism and democratic backsliding.

In an election in which voters born after 1980 made up 56.5% of the electorate, the campaigns of all three presidential contenders made unprecedented use of TikTok and other social media. Yet it was the victor, Prabowo Subianto, whose videos utilised an AI-generated image of him as a gemoy, or cute and charming grandpa, that attracted the most attention.

The tactics were quite different from his previous campaigns of 2014 and 2019, which were marked by hyper-masculine right-wing nationalist and Islamist appeals. Instead, the round-cheeked, dancing grandpa of the 2024 campaign was presumed to be more appealing not only to women, but also to younger Indonesian voters who didn’t know of either his alleged history of human rights violations in Timor Leste, Papua, and Aceh, or his role in the ‘disappearing’ of human rights activists in the waning days of the Soeharto regime. Of the legacy media, only Tempo and The Jakarta Post regularly reminded readers of the former general’s activities during these years, or that he had been discharged from the army in 1998 for breaking the law, violating human rights, and disobeying orders.

Retirement is early in Indonesia – 58 in 2023 – and a cohort of industry leaders who were working during the fall of Soeharto are now retired or retiring, leading to a sea change in newsroom leaderships along with new experiences and memories. Although there were no major closures of media outlets in 2023, Indonesian media continued to suffer a loss of advertising revenue and the rise of online shopping sites such as Shopee and Tokopedia has contributed to the challenges faced by traditional media.

Meanwhile, the new Criminal Code, which includes bans on insulting the president, the vice-president, state institutions, the flag, and the state ideology known as Pancasila, was one year closer to being implemented. Decades in the making, the new code will replace the existing law, which was enacted in 1946 and is a carry-over from the Dutch colonial period. The Indonesian Press Council has noted that the new law, which will come into effect after a three-year waiting period, has 17 articles that have the capacity to threaten press freedom.

The past few years have witnessed other disturbing encroachments on digital expression. The 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions Law contains criminal penalties for those found guilty of distributing, transmitting, and making electronic information containing libel accessible to the public. Although the law was intended to regulate e-commerce, it contains a number of vague and imprecise offences with penalties including arrest and detention. Any kind of electronic communication – including social media – is fair game under the law, as are all manner of ‘insults’, including blasphemy.

Similarly, Ministerial Regulation 5 (MR5), which was introduced in late November 2020 and governs the functioning of private electronic systems operators (ESOs), affects Indonesian services and platforms as well as multinational companies such as Facebook, X, Google, TikTok, and others. Granting the government authority to regulate private ESO activity, MR5 gives authorities access to user data and provides for sweeping notice and takedown orders.

Social media sites such as WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are extremely popular among users in Indonesia: 60% of Indonesians report getting their news from social media platforms. Of these, TikTok in particular gained in popularity as a source for news, jumping 7 percentage points from 22 to 29%. WhatsApp continued to dominate as the overall social media platform for any use.  

Because of the popularity of social media as a source of news, much attention has been directed to its role in spreading disinformation, political propaganda, ‘hoaxes’, and hate speech. COVID-19 led to a flood of misinformation, and the presidential election likewise raised widespread concern about the use of automated accounts and paid commentators, locally known as ‘buzzers’, to promote various political interests.

However, the 2024 election was less about disinformation than it was about what Nicole Curato has described as 'erasing history through good vibes and toxic positivity'.1 As Ross Tapsell has observed, the gemoy images of Prabowo were part of ‘a fake campaign without fake news’, in which ‘AI was used to sanitise discourse rather than muddy it’.2

Janet Steele
Professor of Media and Public Affairs and International Affairs, George Washington University

Changing media

Online and social media remain the most popular sources of news in Indonesia with our more urban sample, but TV and radio remain most important for the millions of people who are not online.

Pay for online news



Trust in news overall



Overall trust in news dipped by 4 percentage points this year, having been stable since 2021. Falling trust is often associated with election cycles as contentious issues are aired more frequently in the news media. Trust in all of the individual brands for which data exist declined, with the top three, Kompas (-8pp), CNN (-8pp), and TVRI (-5pp) declining the most.

RSF World Press Freedom Index


Score 51.15

Measure of press freedom from NGO Reporters Without Borders based on expert assessment. More at

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