Viral-Based Case Handling: Citizen Journalism and ‘Viral’ Activism
In early September 2021, the public was shocked by the viral story on social media about bullying and sexual harassment in Komisi Penyiaran Indonesia (KPI). Later, it was revealed that the police had investigated the case nine years before, but the case was then neglected (CNN Indonesia, 2021). Only one month later, Project Multatuli, a public journalism outlet, released its report regarding the halt of child rape cases in Luwu Timur due to manipulation and conflict of interest (Rusdianto, 2021). The information went viral on social media, triggering anger from the public and forcing the police to continue the investigation. Last week, an online ojek driver got beaten and denied service by police when he reported that his motorcycle was stolen. After the story went viral, the police faced internal punishment in demotion and mutation (Mahendra, 2022).
What is the common thread between these cases? All victims have reported to the police, but the cases were discontinued. Only when the cases went viral did the police move quickly to solve the case. The emphasis on virality means the police apply a viral-based case handling in which they are unwilling to work on the case unless it is viral. This kind of handling could only be possible due to social media enabling public participation to pressure the government, in this matter, the law enforcement apparatus. Thus, the viral process could be considered an act of citizen journalism. This concept is defined as the process of reporting news by a citizen or group of citizens to provide trustworthy and factual information that a democracy requires (Bowman and Willis, 2003, cited in Antony and Thomas, 2010).
A look at the flow of viral content demonstrates that citizen journalism plays a role in pressuring the police. First, someone posts the story; it could be a photo, video, writing, or a combination regarding police misconduct. In this sense, ordinary citizens outside the conventional mass media ‘report’ news contribute to democracy. Then, the audience on social media engages with the content through likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc. Social media records growing mentions of the topic, labelling it as a trending topic. This viral process primarily occurs on Twitter through its ‘Trends for you’ section.
After becoming viral, the conventional mass media do not want to lose the opportunity to report the event in its news. Furthermore, the journalists could ask or confront the issue to the involved parties, in this case, the police. This is in line with the role of citizen journalism as an agenda-setter (Antony and Thomas, 2010). By putting the event in the public spotlight, citizens could replace the hegemony of news outlets in determining what news is worth for the public to know.
In addition to citizen journalism, this phenomenon can also be seen as small-scale online activism. Some scholars have developed pessimistic opinions towards relations between social media and the social movement’s ability to encourage policy change (Gladwell, 2010; Morozov, 2011, cited in Gerbaudo, 2012). However, we cannot neglect that Indonesian netizens successfully suppressed the police to continue the investigation. The reasonable answer lies in the nature of demands. Unlike social movements that need considerable resources to reach policy change, the netizens only have short-term goals: bring justice to the victims. Structural change is out of their scope. They only want the criminal case to be solved, and the only way to do that is by making it viral–let’s call it ‘viral’ activism. The process is also easy; you just have to tap the screen with your fingers to contribute to the ‘viral’ activism. Hence, this small-scale online activism has the potential to hold the police accountable.
While public journalism and ‘viral’ activism are much appreciated as a practice of public involvement in the democratic process, this trend also reveals the irony of law enforcement. According to a legal observer from Universitas Trisakti, Abdul Fickar Hadjar, viral-based handling will harm the broader public because not all people can make their story viral (CNN Indonesia, 2021). In addition, viral-based case handling is, of course, not ideal and violates the rules. In conclusion, scrutiny and pressure from the public are essential to oversee police performance, but structural change also needs to occur within the police.
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