TikTok helps Indonesia’s presidential candidates attract young voters

JAKARTA, Jan 11: Indonesia’s election day is just five weeks away, and three presidential-vice presidential candidates have been trying to reach as many voters as possible.

This year, TikTok has become one of the social media platforms in the Southeast Asian country that has got special attention in the political sphere.

Angga Rahaddian, a 33-year-old private employee in Jakarta, enthusiastically joined a live-streaming interactive talk on TikTok last Friday. The live streaming was directly hosted by one of the presidential candidates, Ganjar Pranowo. He raised the issue of mental health, the current most common issue among young adults in Indonesia.

Rahaddian was among the 233,000 viewers on that live-streaming session. He got an opportunity to directly talk with Pranowo. In an interview with Xinhua right after the live streaming, Rahaddian said he was glad that now the public could have room to interact with the presidential candidate.

“This is great. I had never imagined that we, the millennials, could have a chance to directly talk with high-level figures to elaborate on our aspirations. TikTok has made it all easier. This is what we call democracy in the era of digitalisation,” he said.

Indonesia is home to one of the world’s largest internet users. In 2023, the country recorded a total of 215.63 million internet users nationwide, or 2.67 per cent higher from 2022, according to data from the Indonesia Internet Service Provider Association (APJII).

A 2022 report on Indonesia’s Digital Literacy Status by the country’s Ministry of Communication and Informatics showed that Indonesia had more than 110 million TikTok users, which had kept increasing since 2020 – the second-largest users after the United States. The most active users are between 16 and 34, the ages of young and first-time voters.

Indonesia’s election, scheduled on February 14, has more than 200 million eligible voters, with the young generation (aged 20-35 years) forming almost 60 per cent or around 114 million of the total voters.

This has made social media platforms, such as TikTok, a strategic medium for political contestants to woo young voters.

Pranowo, for example, has been active on TikTok since 2022 when he was the governor of Central Java. Now he has 7.4 million followers. Another candidate, Anies Baswedan, has just joined the hype on TikTok since the end of December last year, but has obtained more than 1 million followers.

Similar to Pranowo, Baswedan started to be active on TikTok so that he could directly interact with the public. “I want to respect the people and be more open in casual dialogues with the young people,” he told reporters recently.

Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the vice president candidate to presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, has also joined TikTok since January 7. He sometimes held a live stream but did not discuss certain issues. He talked more about his personal life, such as his new haircut.

Andhini Anggita Mahakarti, a 28-year-old Jakarta resident, was among Gibran’s 674,000 followers on TikTok. She was amazed by the increased social media presence of political candidates, especially on TikTok, as it provided voters lazy to read the news with an easy way to learn about the candidates.

“It is easier for us to feel closer to the candidates. I don’t like reading the news because it is too serious, I just want to know about the candidates’ daily activities in informal ways. TikTok is the best platform to me because it displays very short videos,” Mahakarti said.

“I encourage all candidates that haven’t joined TikTok to immediately create accounts. This can be a great way for you to attract young voters like us. I can ensure that,” she added.

Political expert Ujang Komarudin from Jakarta-based Al-Azhar University has said that TikTok had become one of the most favourite social media platforms in Indonesia, so it was good for the presidential candidates to use it. He considers that campaigning via TikTok is a positive thing.

“Whether we like it or not, TikTok is loved by the public. It is good for the candidates to show their daily activities, positive activities, their vision-mission or programme, as well as ideas using audio-visuals. The public can access everything they need about the candidates there,” he said.

In a recent official statement, TikTok said it was fully committed to protecting its integrity when it comes to the context of elections. The platform has launched the 2024 Election Guidance Centre and the #SalingJaga (Protect Each Other) campaign, which are part of its initiatives to protect the integrity of the election and the TikTok community in Indonesia.

“We’re proud to be a place that brings people together with creative and entertaining content and continue to work hard to safeguard our platform from harmful misinformation and other policy violations,” it said on its official newsroom website.