Ross Tapsell: Prabowo Uses Toxic Positivity in 2024 Election

Palembang – Indonesia Fact Checking Summit (IFCS) was held on Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Palembang. Attended by over 500 participants, the event was organized by Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Association of Indonesian Cyber Media (AMSI) and Indonesian Anti-hoax Community (Mafindo) with the support of Google News Initiative.

IFCS is a national forum for discussions on information disruption trends, use of artificial intelligence, and the dynamics of media ecosystem throughout the 2024 election. The fact checking summit in Palembang was the third of its kind and was attended by media representatives, journalists, university students and academicians.

The first session featured a keynote speech from Australian National University (ANU) professor Ross Tapsell, who said that fact-checkers have to start shifting their focus from hate speech contents to the more serious issue of government propaganda.

Tapsell’s studies compared three countries that have recently held an election: Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. He found that there was no significant differences in presidential candidate campaign on social media in all three countries.

“Many said that Indonesia and the Philippines are almost identical in this matter throughout the election, with only very slight distinction,” Tapsell said.

Tapsell said that the Philippines’ presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had used TikTok to paint a doctored picture of his father’s presidency. “This is clearly disinformation,” Tapsell said.

Meanwhile, Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and other members of the New Order elite did not attempt to rewrite history. However, the two candidates had made use of toxic positivity in their campaign.

Tapsell said that Prabowo’s campaign has been the opposite of what is understood as disinformation.  Rather than using negative tactics, their campaigns were instead geared toward consistently evoking positive energy.

Prabowo often expressed his agreement with his opponents and thanked them during the debate, while consistenly avoiding interviews and press conferences where he might be facing difficult questions about his past or probes into his future policies.

Prabowo also tended to concur with the other presidential candidates, rather than disparaging them, and this extended to his lack of criticism for the current administration policies.

“This has been a challenge for fact-checkers and will redefine disinformation. How should we perceive the role of social media in this campaign, when social media is no longer spreading disinformation in the form we recognize?” Tapsell said.

IFCS also held a discussion on findings and challenges in handling information disruption during the 2024 election, with panelists Adi Marsiela (CekFakta coalition coordinator), Yos Kusuma (Google Indonesia news partner manager), Septiaji Eko Nugraha (Mafindo chairman) and Ummi Salamah (chair of Institute for Socio-political Research and Development FISIP UI).

Septiaji said that public trust in the 2024 election was different compared to the previous elections.

“We are not only facing political accounts and actors, but also content farms. CekFakta ecosystem can come up with 400-500 contents per month. But these content farms can churn out 4-5 videos per channel per day,” he added.

Septiaji said he believed that there will be more challenges going forward. Apart from disinformation, there is also the issue of use of artificial intelligence (AI).

“There are audio and video deep fakes. We haven’t seen anything serious. But if it gets more sophisticated, it’s very likely that it will confuse the public,” he said.

Septiaji said it is not enough to just fact check. Every stakeholders must get involved in preventive debunking and collaborate with everyone, including international partners.

CekFakta coalition coordinator Adi Marsiela said that CekFakta had fact-checked and debunked nearly 3523 articles gathered throughout 2023.

This year, from January till April 20 alone, the coalition had verified 2268 articles. The spike in number was brought on by the momentum of presidential election and the hubbub over ballot counting application Sirekap.

Adi said the top five topics that have been trending since January 2024 are presidential election (37.5 percent); politics (13.7 percent); foreign affairs  (12.7 percent); fraud (11.2 percent) and disaster (7.5 percent).

“We separated the presidential election from politics in general because the momentum is different. Politics is more about government policies,” Adi said.

Yos Kusuma said that Google Indonesia had worked closely with its ecosystem partners in the run up to the election, by educating the public on how to spot hoax.

Ummi Salamah emphasized the need for CekFakta to highlight emotional aspects of their activities, to gain a wider acceptance. “The more emotional a message, the more likely it will be received. After all, digital architecture is built on emotions. Look at the likes [on social media posts]. It’s an emotion,” she said.

The main session talkshow concluded just before lunch, followed by more discussions on media literacy; impact of political preference on public trust in the media; and coming up with the ideal fact-checking practice in the newsroom in the era of post-truth.  IFCS ended with a closing remark from Professor Masduki from Universitas Indonesia, who spoke about how media should prepare for the information disruption that comes with the 2024 regional election.

Hotline AJI:  08111137820

Cekfakta.com is a web-based platform that facilitates collaboration among 25 press institutions in Indonesia and distribution of fact-checking results. The platform works by publishing articles based on the tracking and correcting of contents suspected of containing misinformation.