Despite a controversial push by the government to reinstate criminal charges for insulting the head of state, a presidential staffer said on Friday that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is ready to accept the consequences of opening a Twitter account, harsh criticism included.
Presidential adviser Daniel Sparingga remarked that world leaders must adjust to the present day reality of social media, as such platforms can enable the public to strategically connect with their governments.
“Yudhoyono attempts to prevent any disconnection from reality, and receiving sharp criticism is part of his effort to maintain a connection with his followers,” Daniel said. “[He] is aware that he will have to respond to both the babble and the critiques.”
He noted that Yudhoyono is aiming to get closer to the public and improve his leadership through his Twitter account.
“SBY wants to become a true netizen,” Daniel said, referring to the president by his popular initials. “He wants to be part of the pulse of ordinary citizens and immerse himself in a dialogue that is free and equal.”
According to political communications expert Effendi Gazali, Twitter is a good medium for interacting with the public sphere, though its effectiveness will depend on the team that manages the account.
“The president will not be able to run his account eight hours a day. There will be someone else appointed as the administrator,” Effendi told the Jakarta Globe. “This administrator may filter tweets, and in the end, it will not be any different than the existing presidential text message program.
“Is there any report of how those text messages were responded to by the president? His Twitter account will not be much different.”
Effendi added that the president must prepare to himself to be bullied by the Twittersphere.
“Twitter is a tough world. … It will be interesting to see, in the context of political communication, if Indonesians will restrain themselves while tweeting to the president, or if they will behave as they normally do on these platforms. Time will tell,” he said.
The University of Indonesia lecturer also remarked that Yudhoyono is bound to be insulted on Twitter. Given the plan to restore an article to the Criminal Code that protects the presidency from verbal attacks, Effendi noted that Twitter users could potentially be dragged into court over their tweets.
“For instance, if someone on Twitter calls the president indecisive or insults him, it could lead to criminal charges,” he said. “Criticism goes hand-in-hand with Twitter.”
Effendi also stated that president must prevent social media from disturbing his work.
“He can’t let it keep him up at night, though I don’t know if the president could be criticized without taking it personally.”