Gambling on the Online Political Ads Race

Since declaring himself as a presidential candidate for the upcoming 2024 general election, the General Chair of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) Giring Ganesha has spent almost IDR 500 million on social, election, or political ads on the Facebook social media platform. The average advertising expenditure of Giring is IDR 10 million per week. That amount of money was used to place approximately 367 Facebook ads from August 4, 2020 to January 1, 2022.

A spokesperson for the PSI’s Executive Central Committee (DPP), Sigit Widodo, did not deny that the advertising costs of hundreds of millions of Rupiah were already spent through Facebook. The PSI will do the placement of online advertising until the Election Commission sets the stage for the 2024 Simultaneous General Election. “We focus on social media advertising because it is was cheaper and more effective,” Sigit said when interviewed on December 27, 2021.

Sigit hopes that the upcoming 2024 General Election will not limit social media advertisements just like the previous 2019 election. In addition to being cheap compared to conventional campaigns that can reach billions of Rupiah, according to Sigit, social media advertising is more effective because it has advertising services that can target specific audiences, because they can take into account behavior, interests, age, and address of the residence. “That’s what other media advertisement platforms cannot provide. Facebook is quite accurate in its targeting, “said Sigit.

Two years before the voting for the upcoming 2024 Simultaneous General Election, a number of names that are expected to take part in the five-year contest have already been advertised as presidential candidates for the ahead 2024. Several names include the Minister of Defense  Prabowo Subianto, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy Airlangga Hartarto, the Chairwomen of the House of Representatives (DPR) Puan Maharani, supporters of the Governor of Central Java Ganjar Pranowo, to the team of the Governor of DKI Jakarta Anies Baswedan.

Among those names, Giring has become a presidential candidate with the largest Facebook ads, already reaching out to IDR 492 million. Furthermore, Airlangga Hartarto amounted to IDR 239 million, Prabowo Subianto IDR 110 million, Anies Baswedan IDR 35 million, Puan Maharani IDR 14 million, and Ganjar Pranowo IDR 11.4 million. Meanwhile, PSI so far became the party with the most advertising, which was out to IDR 1 billion.

A Researcher from the Jakarta-based Association for Elections and Democracy  (Perludem) Mahardhika predicts that the number of funds disbursed by candidates and parties for the political advertisements will increase in line with the stages of the 2024 general election with a total of 5,679 paid advertisements on Facebook. Based on the Perludem monitoring activity from the 2020 Regional Head Elections campaign advertisements during last August – November 2020 alone, there were 159 accounts with a total of 5,679 paid ads on Facebook. The five Pilkada regions with the largest Facebook advertisements there are: Central Sulawesi, Makassar, Surabaya, Sidoarjo and Central Kalimantan. Therefore, according to Dhika, the election administrators need to monitor the circulation of political advertisements on social media. “This targeting has not yet been included in the Election Commissions arrangements,” he said on December 20, 2021.

Otherwise, he is worried about the various bad effects of social media campaigns, including the spreading of hoaxes or fake news, disinformation or misinformation, coordinated non-authentic behavior, coordinated black campaigns, the use of influencers and buzzers, the use of bots to promote certain issues, the flow of funds. Social media campaigns are not transparent and the promotion of polarization will flare up in the upcoming 2024 General Election. “An arrangement is just still an approach, not accommodating the latest development of advertising on social media,” he said.

Based on the observation, the number of social media advertisements for social, election, and political issues recorded on Facebook during August 2020 – January 2022 reached up to IDR 18.8 billion. This figure is relatively small when compared to the Philippines, which will hold a presidential election on 22 May 2022. From August 2020 – November 2021, political ads in the Philippines reached ₱ 141 million Pesos (IDR 40 billion). The data for Senator Win Gatchalian’s Facebook campaign ad spending was the highest until April 2021, which was ₱ 4.5 million Pesos (IDR 1.2 billion). Initially, Senator Win planned to become a vice-presidential candidate, but during registration, he decided to fill out a certificate of nomination as a senator.  Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, who decided to run as a presidential candidate for 2022, was recorded as having spent ₱ 5.6 million Pesos (IDR 1.5 billion) until November 2021 just for advertising on Facebook.

Meanwhile, the Philippines-based investigative media known as the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) revealed that potential candidates for President of the Philippines have spent ₱ 3.7 billion pesos (Rp 10.4 trillion) advertising in conventional media before they officially run for office. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the politician who is recorded to use the most political advertising services on Facebook is Munafri Arifuddin-Rahman Bando (Appi-Rahman) who contested in the 2020 Makassar Regional Head Election. The couple is recorded to have spent up to Rp. 2.9 billion for Facebook advertising spending. However, this amount of money turned out to be unable to boost the pair to win the seat of the regional head.

Muhammad Ridha, a political observer who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in political science at the University of Northwestern, United States, stated that the social media campaigns perhaps are not necessarily effective in influencing people’s choices. If it is not balanced with fieldwork, he said, the influence of social media is limited only to the middle-class group.

Ridha was referring to the 2016 Philippine President Duterte’s victory. Although Duterte has been successful in using social media, Duterte’s victory cannot be separated from the role of the Philippine communist group in the region. In this case, communist groups are interested in the poverty eradication agenda that Duterte has put forward during his campaign. Later after Duterte won, the communist group withdrew from the coalition. “Most of social media are in the middle class. So that if you say it is fully effective, it will win the problematic candidate as well,” Ridha said on Monday, December 27, 2021..

Meanwhile in Indonesia, Ridha assessed that the widespread use of social media by politicians and parties was driven by the low popularity of candidates at the grassroots. As a result, they have little choice but to grab people’s attention through social media. In fact, social media campaigns are a probability that does not necessarily determine the selection of candidates. “It’s a gambling. To what extent did he try to propagate through social media not only so that people would support him, but also want to work for the figure,” he said.

Ridha assesses that President Joko Widodo’s victory in 2015 was initially dependent on social media. But in the end, there was a lot of expressions on the grass, volunteers, and supporters who worked to win Jokowi. The movement was not built by social media advertisements only, but the sentiment of change brought by Jokowi at that time touched many levels of society such as activists, laborers, women, students to civil society. “They know Giring, but do they really want to work for Giring? Because elections are about encouraging people to vote. In the end, It requires field work,” he said.

Instead of trying to get caught up in spending a lot of campaign money on the social media platform, Ridha suggested that the candidates and political parties should bring a new narrative.

One of the important narratives at this time is the pandemic and social protection issues due to the pandemic. Without an alternative narrative, he doubts that the voters’ participation in the upcoming 2024 General Election will be boosted. (Debora B. Sinambela)

Overseas Voters’ Turnout Shrink

Binti Rosidah is one of more than 1.6 million Indonesians living and working in Malaysia. She has been working as a domestic worker in Kuala

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