Online Political Ads and the Lack of Transparency

The video of the nomination of the Chairperson of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) Giring Ganesha as a presidential candidate from PSI for the upcoming 2024 received various reactions from more than 1700 people. The post, dated August 20, 2020, on the Facebook page with the background “Giring for President 2024” accompanied by the PSI logo, was commented on by nearly 1000 people and reshared by around 150 people. The account is also active in sharing Giring’s visits to various regions as well as his views on various issues.

Giring’s face has increasingly appeared on billboards and social media more and more frequently since he declared himself a presidential candidate last August 2020. Based on data from the Facebook Ads Library Report during August 2020 – December 19, 2021, Giring has spent more than IDR 400 million on social, election or political ads on Facebook.

Giring is not the only the politician who is suspected of using Facebook to gain popularity and increase electability for the 2024 General Election. During the period August 2020 – December 2021, Facebook reported that the total social, political, and election advertisements in Indonesia reached IDR 18 billion. Pair of candidates for the 2020 Regional Head Elections, as well as a number of names that are predicted to run in the 2024 Presidential Election, advertise on Facebook. Some of them are Airlangga Hartarto, Puan Maharani, Prabowo Subianto, Anies Baswedan, Ganjar Pranowo, Anis Matta to political parties such as PSI, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and the National Democratic Party (Nasdem).

The chairman of the House of Representatives (DPR), Puan Maharani, spent IDR 14 million for advertising spending on Facebook. This Facebook page of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) politician was created on August 13, 2021, or two years after she served as chairman of the parliament. The content is about the work achievements and daily activities. Puan’s move was followed by her colleague at PDIP who also serves as the Governor of Central Java, Ganjar Pranowo. He has an account that promotes himself as a potential candidate in the 2024 presidential election. The Sahabat Ganjar account, which is managed by the Ganjar lover community, was created in October 2021. So far, he has spent IDR 11.4 million to advertise on Facebook.

A number of ministers, such as the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Airlangga Hartarto, spent at least a total of IDR 239 million on Facebook. The general chairman of the Golkar Party (Golkar) has three pages, namely Sahabat Airlangga, Airlangga 2024 and Airlangga Hartarto.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto has the account “Prabowo for Indonesia.” This account has been recorded to have advertised IDR 110 million for political and election issues. Even so, the post on the page does not mention much about Prabowo’s candidacy for 2024. The content is more about Prabowo’s activities and achievements as Minister of Defense under the President Joko Widodo.

The Governor of DKI Jakarta, Anies Baswedan, did a similar thing. Anies’ Facebook account, which was created in December 2020, named “Facts of Anies Baswedan” was created specifically to share the achievements of the former minister of education and culture while leading the capital city of Jakarta. Until now, Anies’ ads on Facebook have reached IDR 35 million. has attempted to confirm all of these accounts, either by phone calls or by text messages. However, not all of them confirmed campaign ad spending on Facebook. “Currently, Ibu Puan is in quarantine after her visit to Semeru. The chairwoman (Puan) is the only one who has come down to an isolated area,” said Puan’s special staff, Gianto to Jaring on Tuesday, December 23, 2021.

Spending on political advertisements on social media complements the installation of billboards and also billboards for figures who are expected to run in the upcoming 2024 Presidential Election. Puan’s billboard with the words “Flap the Wings of Diversity” even became a spotlight because it was installed on rural to urban roads. Recently, billboards featuring the figure of Puan entitled your cry also is my cry was also considered “stealing the stage” for handling victims of the Mount Semeru eruption in Lumajang, East Java.

In addition to Puan, each of the parties that oversee Airlangga and Giring also spread a number of billboards. Billboards with yellow backgrounds with the words “Work for Indonesia” adorn the main roads in various cities. The head of the winning election division of the Golkar Party, Maman Abdurrahman, in his written statement some time ago confirmed the installation of billboards as part of the party’s agenda to increase Airlangga’s electability. The results of a collaborative survey between Politica Research and Consulting and Indonesian Political Parameters showed that Airlangga’s electability was not more than 1 percent.

As for Giring’s billboards, PSI central committee spokesman Sigit Widodo said the billboards were intentionally installed to introduce Giring as a 2024 presidential candidate. The cost of renting the place came from the personal pockets of PSI sympathizers in various regions. the central committee PSI only bears the cost of making the materials. Even so, according to Sigit, his party so far has not prioritized outdoor advertising. “When compared to other party advertisements outside the room, which amount to billions, our advertising costs are less because we focus on social media advertising which is cheaper and more effective,” he said in an interview on December 27, 2021.

The marketing research institute Nielsen noted that advertising expenditures issued by political organizations (political parties and candidates for regional heads) in the period January 2020 – November 2021 on television, print, radio and digital media reached IDR 990 billion. Throughout 2021, the party’s advertising spending will reach IDR 454 billion. Of this amount, the proportion of political advertising spending on TV is 55.7 percent, print is 43.2 percent, radio is 0.2 percent and digital is 0.9 percent. “If you want to compare it with the total advertising spending, the portion of advertising spending on political organizations is below 0.5 percent,” said Nielsen Media Project Support Executive Fathia Setyani on Tuesday, December 14, 2021.

Even so, the rise of political advertisements ahead of the 2024 general election, according to the commissioner of the Election Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu), Ratna Dewi Pettalolo, cannot be categorized as a violation. The reason is that the rules related to the campaign apply when the election stage is running. “That’s socialization, even if we use the term of the campaign it is not directly related to the campaign referred to in the Election Law,” he said referring to Article 492 of Law Number 7 of 2017 concerning Elections which contains the phrase ‘the schedule determined by the Electiuon Commission,’ when interviewed on Tuesday. 28, Dec 2021.

This regulation was then stated in the General Election Commission (KPU) Regulation No. 11 of 2020 concerning Campaigns. This regulation contains the technical campaigns that can be carried out by candidates. For example, for advertising campaigns in the mass media and social media, which can start 14 days before the quiet period. The number of advertisements on television is a maximum of 10 spots with each 30 seconds duration. Meanwhile, the maximum number of advertisements on social media is five advertisements per day for one candidate’s account.

The regulation also targets campaign props such as billboards, banners, banners, and Videotron’s. Each candidate may add campaign props as much as 200 percent of the maximum amount provided by the General Commission. For each regency/city, the Commissions provides a maximum of five billboards and Videotron’s. Campaign props may not be installed in places of worship, hospitals or health services, government-owned buildings, and educational institutions. Candidates who violate the terms of the campaign advertisement will receive a written warning and a force takedown of advertisements within 1×24 hours.

However, the Commissioner of KPU, I Dewa Kade Wiarsa Raka Sandi admitted that the regulation related to the current campaign has not yet detailed the procedures for campaigning in cyberspace. In fact, according to him, the issues related to the distribution of advertisements on the network, target audiences, to the transparency of social media platforms, including the regulation of online campaign funds, need to be regulated soon. “In principle, it is necessary to prepare participatory and progressive election regulations, so as to realize justice and legal certainty,” said Dewa on Monday, December 20, 2021.

With the current regulations, Dewa said, what politicians, including cabinet ministers, are doing, is limited to promoting themselves. Moreover, until now, both the Election Commission, DPR, and the Government have not yet decided when the 2024 election stage will begin. “Regarding violations or not, election supervisors are certainly more competent to judge. However, the current regulations governing all Election Campaign and Regional Election regulations apply when the stages have already started,” he added.

A researcher from the watchdog Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) Mahardhika assesses that transparency of funds and methods of distributing the online-based political advertisements are very necessary. This is useful to ensure that no state officials who want to contest politics in 2024 use public funds. “The public needs to monitor paid advertisements including on social media because the social media platforms have the ability to target the audiences, read behavior so that they determine voters’ choices,” he said in an interview on Monday, December 20, 2021.

The Coalition for Social Media Campaign Ethics, which consists of 11 civil society organizations, has mapped nine potential adverse effects of social media campaigns in the 2020 Simultaneous Regional Head Elections. Some of them are the spread of hoaxes or fake news, the spread of disinformation, coordinated non-authentic behaviour, black campaigns that coordinated, use of Influencers and Buzzers, use of issue-driven bots, the non-transparent flow of funds for social media campaigns, and the promotion to push towards polarization.

The bad effect of the social media campaign, said Mahardhika, needs to be anticipated considering the high spending on campaign advertising on the internet. Throughout August 2020 – December 2021, spending on social, political, and election advertisements on social media reached IDR 18 billion. However, this amount of advertising spending may not necessarily represent the actual expenditures that politicians have spent. This is because politicians often employ bots and trolls whose costs cannot be seen in the Facebook ad repository. Meanwhile, the validity of the campaign finance report is doubtful.

Mahardhika gave an example of the campaign finance report presented by Irman Yasin Limpo and Andi Zunnun Armin Nurdin in the 2020 Makassar City Election. At that time, Irman reported that social media funds were IDR 0, even though the Facebook ad repository recorded 38 advertisements worth IDR 10.5 million. Other candidates who are trying to cover up spending are Munafri Arifuddin and Abd Rahman Bando. At that time, this contestant spent up to IDR 983 billion, which was sourced from the Bosowa Company, to advertise on Facebook. However, in the campaign fund receipts report, the pair candidates only report campaign fund donations amounting to IDR 11 billion.

Meanwhile, in the 2019 Presidential Election, spending on social media by the two pairs of presidential candidates was not recorded in detail in the campaign fund reports. Presidential candidate Joko Widodo -Ma’ruf Amin only reported spending of IDR 153 billion on reports of other activities that did not violate campaigning and laws and regulations. Meanwhile, Prabowo Subianto – Sandiaga Uno reported a spending of IDR 40 billion. In fact, according to Mahardhika, financial reports related to the use of social media need to be separate from reports of other activities. “If we separate, we can track the exact amount spent on social media campaigns expenditures,” he said.


Not Only Happen in Indonesia

The lack of transparency of candidates reporting on social media campaign spending also occurred in the 2019 Philippine elections. The investigative media in the Philippines, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) recently reported that only 1 out of 4 senate candidates declared spending on social media. In the 2019 election, only 16 out of 62, or about a quarter of senator candidates, stated social media-related spending in the Statements of Election Contributions and Expenditure (SOCEs).

“This demonstrates the difficulty of monitoring campaign spending on the internet, which advocates of campaign finance reform say will be a major challenge in the 2022 elections,” the PCIJ wrote in a report published Wednesday, December 15, 2021.

In 2019, candidates focus their spending on Youtube and Facebook. This trend is expected to continue in the 2022 election due to the platform’s popularity in the Philippines. The Philippines will hold a presidential election in May 2022. The PCIJ noted that potential candidates for President of the Philippines had already spent ₱ 3.7 billion pesos (IDR 10.4 trillion) advertising in conventional media before they officially ran for office. Meanwhile, political advertisements on Facebook from August 2020 – November 2021 are worth ₱ 141 million Pesos (IDR 40 billion). Senator Win Gatchalian’s Facebook campaign ad spending data 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, spent ₱ 5.6 million Pesos or equivalent to IDR 1.5 billion just for advertising on Facebook until November 2021. All advertisements are not considered as campaigns outside of the schedule because they are not regulated in election regulations.

In contrast to Indonesia and the Philippines, the presidential election campaign in Timor Leste is predicted to not use social media too much. This is because, according to the Director of Moffe Timor Leste, Yasinta Lujina, the facilities and infrastructure, as well as the high cost of internet in Timor Leste, make social media not as popular as conventional media: television, radio, and the print media. “There have been those who have declared themselves personally that they will compete in the presidential election. There are declarations on social media, others in the mass media,” he said when contacted on Tuesday, December 21, 2021.

The presidential election in Timor Leste based on data from the local election commission, CNE will be followed by 839,430 voters and 6,010 abroad. One of the candidates who are predicted to run is the Labor Party President, Angela Freitas and Armanda Berta do Santos, which currently is the Deputy Prime Minister of Timor Leste. (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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