Social Media and Youth Political Participation at the Time of Political Polarization: A Study on University Students in Indonesia during the 2017 Jakarta Gubernatorial Election
Some studies theorized social media as fostering youth political participation by facilitating the development of online participatory cultures (Jenkins, 2009). Online participatory cultures provide young citizens with opportunities to discuss and gain information about political topics, create capacity for action by promoting digital skills and norms for group interaction, and facilitate recruitment into civic and political life (Kahne et al., 2013). Against the backdrop of this discourse, this research aims to investigate social media and youth political participation in Indonesia’s context. This project’s research questions ask: How politics is experienced by Indonesian youth and how social media is used by them to engage with political activities? To answer those questions, this research conducted a survey (n=265) and interviews (n=29) with students from three universities in Jakarta. This research adopted grounded theory approach in analysing the data. This research revealed that social media in general provides affordances for youth to engage with activities related to political conversation and social-political campaign (as indicated by the findings that social media attracts more numbers of youth participating in these two categories of activity). Thus, this research in part support propositions advocated by the thesis of online participatory cultures that social media facilitates youth political participation. However, under the specific context of ethnic and religious-based political polarization which happened during this research, this research also revealed that the salient form of social media use by youth is in fact monitoring political conversation. This activity is driven by the sense of “kepo” (the drive to asses how others are thinking, feeling, and responding to certain political issues) and has the effect on youth’s fear of social isolation (in the form of fear of breaking relationship with others). Eventually, this activity leads youth to the act of silence (in the form of refraining political expression on social media). In this case, this research (unintentionally) confirm the theory of spiral of silence proposed by Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann (1984). Finally, this research contributes to the academic discourse by providing a critical insight into the way social media could lead its users to the process of spiral of silence i.e. by exacerbating the fear of social isolation obtained from the activity of social surveillance (in the form of monitoring political conversation).