Jacques Luis Alves de Jesus Soares, Master student of Diponegoro University (UNDIP)

By:

Jacques Luis Alves de Jesus Soares

The COVID-19 pandemic at the global level is still ongoing, with an uncertain solution to end it. At the same time, in this tiny nation, Timor-Leste is struggling to overcome this virus spread with various policies and regulations that the government has applied since March 2020. During this health crisis, Timor-Leste is preparing for a presidential-parliamentary election in upcoming years. The presidential election will take place in 2022, will be followed by the parliamentary election in 2023. It is undeniable that the Timorese societies must celebrate a big democratic party during Covid-19 outbreaks, labeled as a “pandemic election.”

During the COVID-19 outbreak under the state of emergency policy, this situation remains a challenge for all political parties to hold their political consolidation activities in the entire territory of Timor-Leste. In some way, this situation will affect the number of electability or voters for every political party to gain their representative in the parliamentary seat and the presidential seat, similarly how this situation becomes a challenge during the pandemic circumstances. Therefore, this article aims to identify the process of the presidential and parliamentary elections that will happen. Furthermore, this article will discuss (i) the role of social in the Timor-Leste election in this pandemic situation, (ii) what is a positive aspect and negative aspect of social media on the election (iii) and what is possible solution to prevent the negative aspect of social media during the implementation of the national elections’ activities.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been spending even more time on their social media, and all the political parties are hoping to take advantage to tap directly into their voter base.[1] The trend of political parties in Timor-Leste started getting into social media platforms to campaign their political party’s information and news. However, several years ago, this trend is not used mainly by many political parties to do their campaign and share the political party’s information and news. So, several questions appear as such: What is Social Media? How Many Types or Classes of Social Media? What is the core characteristic of Social Media? What is the common function of Social Media? What are the positive and negative aspects of Social Media on the election?

Social media often used to refer to new forms of media that involve interactive participation of the socities. The development of media is divided into broadcast age, and the interactive age. In the broadcast age, media is centralized exclusively in a pragmatic approach where one entity—such as a radio or television station, newspaper company, or a movie production studio—distributed messages to many people. The emergence of digital and mobile technologies, interaction on a large scale had made individuals to be easier to access to information than ever before; and as such, a new media age was born where interactivity was placed at the center of new media functions.[2]

There are various core characteristics of social media. But, typically, two common elements help to define social media’s platform. First, social media allow some form of participation. Second, and in line with their participatory nature, social media involve interaction.[3]

There are several common forms or classes of social media, as such:

  • Email. Probably the most common form of social media used in everyday life, email (short for electronic mail) involves users logging into an account to send and receive messages to other users.
  • Texters. Like email, a texter is a two-way communication channel that allows individuals to quickly send a message to another person or a group of people.
  • Blogs. The word blog is derived from the word weblog. A blog is a webpage where an individual or group can share information or ideas with a large group of people via the internet.
  • Message boards. It is not uncommon for fans of television programs or other popular entertainment to frequent message boards that allow users to post messages that talk about a clearly defined subject.
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  • Connection sites. Online dating is another form of social media. Users approach online dating sites—some that require paid membership and others that are free of charge—and create a profile that tells who they are and what they seek in a relationship.
  • Social networking sites. Facebook and other social networking sites are almost ubiquitous features in contemporary culture.
  • Games and entertainment. Online games and entertainment often carry a social dimension.
  • Apps. Short for mobile applications, apps are not necessarily social media oriented; but many times, people can connect through apps via another form of social media (typically Facebook) and many times apps in and of themselves have social dimension.[4]

As the classes of social media explained, social media have many different functions. First, they allow people to do identity work. As an individual puts who they are into a profile, it requires reflection. Second, social media will enable people to tend to their relationships in different ways. Even if popular discourse often demonizes outlets such as Facebook or Twitter as self-centered and senseless. Some have studies attested that social media allow people to connect an outlet to interact with each other. Third, social media allow people to perform work functions. Sometimes the social media is their work, such as a popular blog or someone with a large social network circle being hired to promote events. Other times people interact with work colleagues via social media sites or, especially with email, take care of most of their work communication using the social media outlet. Fourth, social media allow people to seek information or share ideas. This information can range from political campaigns to local issues, disaster relief, and a good place to buy plus-size clothing. Fifth, and often in line with information sharing, people can also offer opinions or consider the opinions of others through social media.  Finally, individuals can find entertainment through such sites.[5]

Globalization is driving us to adopt and use social media in our daily life’s activities. Moreover, the world is also used to describe the growing interdependence of the world’s economies, cultures, and populations, brought about by cross-border trade in goods and services, technology, and flows of investment, people, and information. The wide-ranging effects of globalization are complex and politically charged. As with vital technological advances, globalization benefits society while harming certain groups through social media.

Timor-Leste is a new country, who gets independence in the 21st Century. This means that Timor-Leste became a country in the era of a digital revolution. Hence, it makes Timor-Leste must adapt to the digital revolution and globalization. The digital revolution has had a significant impact on everything in our life. It started from the economy, innovation, science, and education, to health, sustainability, governance, and lifestyles. Digital technologies will fundamentally change business models, institutions and society, as new ecosystems emerge

Timor-Leste is second youngest countries in Asia Pacific Region and fifteen in the world with 74% population are age 17-35 years old.[6] With the almost population are youth, the use of social media is highly. The use of the internet for social media is significant in Timor-Leste with 410,000 active social media users, representing 31 % of the population. Facebook dominates social media use, with 410,000 users. Around 95% of the user’s access Facebook via mobile phones, and the percentage of male profiles are higher than female profiles (i.e., 60 % against 40 %, respectively). In contrast, the total number of monthly active Instagram users is 32,000, representing only 2 % of the total population).[7] This data shows that in Timor-Leste people use several social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Youtuber, TikTok, and so on.

The media landscape has changed over the last few years, also bringing about a shift in media’s impact on the democratic process that is particularly notable during election periods. The arrival of private actors that for the most part remain non-regulated, such as Facebook and Google, has greatly affected citizen’s ability to receive important information about elections. These players have become a principal platform of political interaction, as well as a critical vehicle for political advertising.

Some research found that by shifting of media of course causes huge impact positive and negative on the democratic process specially on election periods.

Positive aspects of social media’s role during elections:

  • Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms allow political contestants to better reach out to their voters and to engage them more directly in their campaigns.
  • They also enhance the opportunities for citizens to retrieve information that is important for their voting decisions.
  • They are very efficient and relatively cheap tools for voter mobilization

Negative aspects of social media’s role during elections:

  • Voter suppression (misrepresentation of “factual” voter information – e.g., regarding methods, place, location, time, qualifications, and identification)
  • Voter fraud (vote buying/selling)
  • Incitement to violence, spreading of hate speech (to heighten deep-seated sources of tension, discord, and hatred – including calls for political and electoral exclusion – in ways that undermine public trust in democratic institutions and increase the possibility of electoral violence and political instability).
  • Bullying, harassment, and arbitrary surveillance of journalists or other public figures
  • Cyberespionage (which is a form of cyberattack that steals classified or sensitive data to undermine a candidate or party)
  • Doxing of candidates and activists for the purposes of harm, harassment, online shaming, manipulation, and shaping the opinions of voters (doxing means publishing personal information about people without their consent, which can include addresses, phone numbers, credit card details, medical information, private e-mails. Etc.)
  • Data mining for political micro-targeting used in electoral campaigns (political micro-targeting is even more tailored to individual voters than normal advertising used for example on television and relies on a broad set of collected data about an individual, based on traces s/he leaves through online interactions).
  • Spreading disinformation and misinformation (false or misleading information that is created or disseminated with the intent to cause harm – to persons, groups, institutions, or processes – or to benefit the perpetrator)
  • Exerting foreign interference in elections (attempts by governments, covertly or overtly, to influence elections in another country)
  • Trolling (aimed at generating online discord by upsetting people or starting quarrels, through content that is inflammatory or off-topic that is posted in an online community. Trolls are hired by political contestants – parties or candidates – to discredit opponents).
  • Identity theft (the deliberate use of someone else’s identity to discredit opponents, for example by stealing personal emails and other data)
  • Digital attacks against journalists and other media actors (this includes attempts to limit legitimate political speech through the shutdown of Internet and other communications channels, filtering or blocking content pertaining to elections, applications, and websites, as well as illegitimate surveillance, tracking, hacking, fake domain attacks, denial of service attacks, data mining, doxing, and confiscation of digital hardware, among other modalities).
  • Online Harassment (female politicians)[8]

Some previous studies stated that there is a possible solution to tackling or preventing the negative impact of social media on the election. Moreover, various possible solutions that can be considered as the alternative solutions such as:

  • Upgrading information and communications technologies (ICT) capacities are required for administrative elections.
  • Apply human rights standards and normative frameworks to the challenges that social media and Artificial Intelligence (AI) pose to elections
  • Rule of law, including, self-regulation, and co-regulation of online content
  • Apply media and information literacy campaigns
  • Bargains EMBs and technology companies to combat disinformation
  • Political parties and candidates require to join forces to prevent and counter disinformation
  • Implement fact-checking application, myth-busting, trust, and credibility-enhancing initiatives
  • Carrying out social media monitoring
  • Fostering transparency in online campaigning and political advertising
  • Apply gender equality and addressing violence against women in elections
  • Promote voter education, media and information literacy, and youth’s participation in elections[9]

The role of social media in the election is very crucial than ever. As we live in the midst of the health crisis, most people spend their time on social media platforms. Moreover, it plays a crucial role in social life, including the upcoming event of democratic celebration in the elections. It provides an effective way for the political parties to reach and mobilize the voters, do the campaign, and deliver political parties and candidate information. However, in another sense, social media could also negatively affect the implementation of the national elections, such as hate speech, fake news, misinformation, online harassment, etc.

 

Jacques Luis Alves de Jesus Soares

Master student of Diponegoro University (UNDIP)

+670 77733926

Jacques.alves97@gmail.com

 *The author is currently pursuing his master’s degree on Political Science in Diponegoro University (UNDIP)

REFERENCES

Global Digital Report (2018). Digital: 2018 Timor-Leste. On website https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2018-timor-leste. <Accessed on 15 November 2021>

Malone G., K. (2021). Pandemic election: The role of social media strategies amid COVID-19.  The Canadian Press. On website https://globalnews.ca/news/8201188/canada-election-covid-social-media/. <Accessed on 15 November 2021>

Manning, J. (2014.) (a) Social media, definition, and classes of. In K. Harvey (Ed.), Encyclopedia of social media and politics (pp. 1158-1162). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p. 1158

Manning, J. (2014.) (b) Social media, definition, and classes of. In K. Harvey (Ed.), Encyclopedia of social media and politics (pp. 1158-1162). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p. 1160

Manning, J. (2014.) Social media, definition, and classes of. In K. Harvey (Ed.), Encyclopedia of social media and politics (pp. 1158-1162). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p. 1161 

Seoul International Forum on Elections (2021). THE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF SOCIAL MEDIA DURING ELECTIONS. National Election Commission of the Republic of Korea. On website https://memo98.sk/article/the-roles-and-responsibilities-of-social-media-during-elections. <Accessed on 15 November 2021>

UNDP Timor-Leste. TimorLeste’s 4th National Human Development Report. Dili, Timor-Leste. On website https://www.tl.undp.org/content/timor_leste/en/home/all-projects/NHDR-2018.html . <Accessed, 15 November 2021>

[1] Malone G., K. (2021). Pandemic election: The role of social media strategies amid COVID-19.  The Canadian Press. On website https://globalnews.ca/news/8201188/canada-election-covid-social-media/

[2] Manning, J. (2014.) Social media, definition, and classes of. In K. Harvey (Ed.), Encyclopedia of social media and politics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p. 1158

[3] Ibid

[4] Manning, J. (2014.) Social media, definition, and classes of. In K. Harvey (Ed.), Encyclopedia of social media and politics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p. 1160

[5] Manning, J. (2014.) Social media, definition, and classes of. In K. Harvey (Ed.), Encyclopedia of social media and politics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p. 1161

[6] UNDP Timor-Leste. TimorLeste’s 4th National Human Development Report. Dili, Timor-Leste. On website https://www.tl.undp.org/content/timor_leste/en/home/all-projects/NHDR-2018.html <Accessed, 15 November 2021>

[7] Global Digital Report (2018). Digital:2018 Timor-Leste. On website https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2018-timor-leste <Accessed, 15 November 2021>

[8] Seoul International Forum on Elections (2021). THE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF SOCIAL MEDIA DURING ELECTIONS. National Election Commission of the Republic of Korea. On website https://memo98.sk/article/the-roles-and-responsibilities-of-social-media-during-elections. <Accessed, 15 November 2021>

[9] Ibid

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