July 20, 2023
JAKARTA – TikTok is emerging as the new electoral battleground in the 2024 general elections as Indonesian politicians scramble to get the votes of members of Generation Z, many of whom will be first-time voters and big fans of China’s widely popular video-hosting service.
With 113 million users, TikTok is now the third-most popular content-sharing platform in Indonesia, behind Google’s YouTube and Meta’s Facebook. This makes the country home to the platform’s second-largest audience globally after the United States, accounting for more than half of its total audience in Southeast Asia.
While so-called Gen Zers are seen as being politically apathetic, and while TikTok is far less polarized than Twitter or Facebook, electoral contenders are now turning to the new platform to tip the balance of electoral power in their favor. TikTok users, a majority of whom are aged between 18 and 24, form a major voting bloc.
The election has thus slightly changed the TikTok experience for its users.
“I see a lot of content about Ganjar,” 19-year-old Raffa Ararya from South Jakarta, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday, referring to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle’s (PDI-P) presumptive presidential candidate Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo. “Other than that, it’s the jingle from PAN,” he added, referring to the National Mandate Party’s recent party jingle, which has made the rounds across Indonesian social media platforms.
While Raffa does not regard TikTok as a reliable source of information on politicians and political parties, he said the platform had sparked discussions surrounding next year’s elections among his peers.
All nine parties with seats in the House of Representatives have begun their forays into TikTok, with each account having tens of thousands of followers.
With 57,800 followers as of early July, the opposition Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) has the biggest following on TikTok, followed by the United Development Party (PPP) and the Gerindra party with 48,100 and 47,700 followers, respectively. PAN, meanwhile, sits in fourth with 46,500 followers.
“When compared with other social platforms, we realized that TikTok has the most growth in terms of its audience, particularly Generation Z voters. So we have been trying to leverage TikTok’s growth for our campaigns,” PKS spokesperson Ahmad Mabruri said on Wednesday.
But Ahmad admitted that the PKS had no specific strategy when it came to engaging youth voters on the platform, and that the party was simply relying on its social media team, which is also dominated by Gen Z members, to grow its TikTok following organically.
Riding on its recent popularity wave, PAN saw a 218 percent increase in followers over the past month, as videos of party members performing the PAN, PAN, PAN jingle at crowd rallies managed to garner more than 2 million views.
PAN deputy head Viva Yoga Mauladi said on Wednesday that TikTok had become “increasingly competitive” among political parties. “It’s the new place to be. There was Facebook before, then Twitter, then Instagram, and it’s now TikTok,” Viva said. “We are happy with the public interest in our jingle, but that's only the start of it. We are trying to be dynamic and we are developing new strategies to educate voters about PAN [on TikTok].”
The pro-government Indonesia Solidarity Party (PSI), which has long fashioned itself as a youth party, has the biggest following among non-House parties with close to 30,000 followers. “Since most PSI members are young people, it’s only natural that they want to introduce themselves and the PSI through content on TikTok,” PSI deputy head Andy Budiman said.
Of the three presumptive presidential candidates, only Anies Baswedan has an official account on TikTok. But this does not mean that Ganjar and Prabowo Subianto of Gerindra are absent from the platform, as they both have their online supporters campaigning for them.
‘Mobilizing young voters’
Observers have pointed to the recent legislative election in Thailand and last year’s Philippines presidential election as evidence that TikTok will have a substantial role in determining who will form Indonesia’s next government in 2024.
The progressive Move Forward Party’s victory in the Thai election has largely been chalked up to the party’s social media campaigning, particularly on TikTok, where its follower count rose to 2.8 million just before the election, from below 400,000 at the start of April, Bloomberg reported.
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr’s landslide win last year was also aided by numerous TikTok videos that painted a rosy picture of a stable and developing Philippines under Ferdinand’s father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
With Indonesian parties and politicians having also begun tapping into the country’s massive TikTok audience, mass communications expert Nuurrianti Jalli told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that the application is quickly becoming “a crucial platform for online campaigning” because its algorithm-driven content discovery and recommendation system increases the chances of campaign content going viral.
“TikTok’s combination of a larger youth audience, potential for content going viral, and unique creative capabilities make it an attractive platform for engaging and mobilizing young voters,” Nuurrianti, an associate professor at Oklahoma State University’s School of Media and Strategic Communications, said.
While other political experts have made out young voters to be critical and less easily influenced by the content they view online, Nuurrianti said, given the variations in education and levels of media literacy among Indonesian youth, some might be more easily influenced than others, including by political campaigning on TikTok.
“[But] to effectively sway youth voters, political campaigns should still utilize a comprehensive approach that combines [both] TikTok campaigning with other strategies, such as policy discussions,” she added.
Concerns about misinformation
However, concerns have been raised that TikTok could become an echo chamber for hate speech and misinformation, thus putting the 2024 elections at risk of becoming even more divisive than the 2019 elections.
These concerns have been mirrored in academic circles, as research conducted last year by watchdog group Global Witness and the New York University’s Cybersecurity for Democracy team concluded that TikTok approved the highest percentage of false political advertisements among sites such as YouTube and Facebook.
Anggini Setiawan-Harvey, head of communications at ByteDance Indonesia, was not immediately available for comment on the issue.
Filling the gap
According to independent data aggregator DataReportal, TikTok’s ad reach stood at 10 million voting-age users as of early this year, an increase of 19.4 percent, an addition of roughly 18 million users, over the past 12 months.
Although TikTok’s ads can target users as young as 13 years old, ByteDance, TikTok’s developer, only shows data for users aged 18 and above.
In comparison, data published in Meta’s planning tools show that Facebook’s and Instagram’s potential ad reach in Indonesia decreased by 7.7 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively, over the same period of time.
Social media expert Rulli Nasrullah posited that TikTok’s rapid rise in Indonesia was down to a multitude of factors. “It filled a gap in the market. Indonesian youth has grown desensitized to the social media applications on offer. And with TikTok offering [a platform for] short 30-second content, young people are hooked,” he said on Thursday.
Another advantage TikTok has over other content-sharing platforms, Rulli went on to say, was the low barrier to entry for users to upload content, largely thanks to TikTok’s beginner-friendly video-editing software. The app’s algorithm also encourages content variety, as low-effort and niche videos can still garner millions of views.
These factors, Rulli said, coupled with the tendency among Indonesian youth to follow the trends of the day, has cemented TikTok “as the top-of-mind platform” when it comes to sharing short-videos, despite Instagram’s and YouTube’s own efforts to replicate similar features on their platforms. (ahw)