Strength of Weak Ties: Youth & Digital Politics in Indonesia

Eco Chamber: The “Loe Lagi Loe Lagi (4L)” Phenomenon

Indonesia’s political landscape is complex and constantly evolving, with a multitude of active political & pressure groups engaging on a wide range of issues. To fully grasp the political dynamics in the country, particularly the role of the youth in shaping political change, it is essential to understand both the online and offline interactions between diverse political & pressure groups. In this article, political & pressure groups are defined as organizations that address wide range socio-environmental-political issues through various establishments, including political parties, non-governmental organizations, youth organizations, and civil society organizations.

Online social media has proven to be beneficial for some individuals in the political arena. Hillary Brigitta Lasut, the youngest elected Indonesian Member of Parliament from North Sulawesi Province, says, “Online social media has provided a cost-effective and wider coverage to reach younger voters during my campaign.” Lasut utilized various online social media platforms to interact more efficiently with her constituents. Additionally, her political party leverages digital technology to manage and sustain their operations throughout Indonesia (Kemenkominfo, 2021). The active participation of young Indonesians in various activities that support democracy and contribute to Indonesia’s political structure highlights the important role played by social media (Saud & Margono, 2021).

Hillary Brigitta Lasut, People’s Representative Council. Lasut utilises online social media platforms with her constituents.

The rise of social media activism has brought about both opportunities and challenges for political activism. On the one hand, social media offers a platform for people to voice their opinions and mobilize mass support through simple and easily digestible narratives. This has the potential to translate into populist political activism, especially when it aligns with the values of contemporary culture, such as nationalism and religiosity (Lim, 2013). However, social media also presents the challenge of freedom to hate, where individuals exercise their right to express their opinions openly but at the same time silence others (Lim, 2017).

Moreover, the interplay between users and algorithms has led to the formation of “algorithmic enclaves” that can foster tribal nationalism. Within these online communities, social media users legitimize their own version of nationalism, which may involve the exclusion of equality and justice for others (Lim, 2017). This highlights the need to critically examine the role of social media in shaping political activism and its potential impact on society.

“Wah. 4L nih!” is a common expression among political activists and civil society activists during meetings and coordination, refers to the feeling of encountering the same individuals, groups, and members of networks repeatedly. “4L” stands for “loe lagi, loe lagi“, which translates to “you again, you again” in English and is a sarcastic phrase widely used in Indonesia to express frustration with repetitive situations. Many activists, as well as social and community workers, often feel trapped in their own bubble, constantly discussing the same issues with the same people. This repetition leads to a sense of boredom and disillusionment with the current situation. This article aims to explore the phenomenon of “bubble politics” in Indonesia, as perceived by many political activists, social and community workers.

Political and civil society activists may or may not be aware that they are confined in a “bubble,” or an echo chamber, where they are primarily exposed to information and perspectives that align with their own beliefs and ideologies. This can occur both online and offline but is more prevalent online due to the excessive use of digital platforms such as social media, where individuals self-select into groups that reinforce their views. In the context of politics, echo chambers can significantly influence how individuals approach political issues and form opinions. For example, those who are only exposed to information confirming their beliefs may ignore opposing viewpoints or alternative perspectives. This can lead to a reinforcement of biases and a lack of exposure to diverse perspectives, causing increased polarization and political extremism, and a failure to see the broader picture and connect with other groups and issues.

To what extent digital technology might strengthen or hinder the political dynamics among the youth from multiple political and pressure groups in Indonesia?

The purpose of this article is to examine the possibility of linking political organizations and advocacy groups to encourage dynamic and innovative political conversations among them in both physical and virtual settings. The emphasis is on the younger generation of these groups as they often play a key role in driving transformation and shaping the political arena. Moreover, their high level of digital competence makes them valuable in wielding significant influence. Through identifying means to connect these groups, the goal is to establish a space for productive and progressive dialogue and the exchange of ideas that can result in positive social and political impacts.

Kolaka, Indonesia – July 2, 2020: Burning of used tires by protesters in front of the Kolaka DPRD office.

The Strength of Weak Ties

The strength of weak ties is a concept in social network theory first proposed by sociologist Mark Granovetter in his 1973 paper “The Strength of Weak Ties.” The concept refers to the idea that our weak social connections, or “weak ties,” often play a more important role in our lives than our strong ones.

Granovetter’s theory is based on the idea that our strong ties, such as close friends, family members or group members tend to be people who share similar backgrounds, interests, and social networks as us. As a result, they tend to provide us with information and resources that are similar to what we already know and have access to. In contrast, our weak ties, such as acquaintances and colleagues, tend to be people who come from different backgrounds and have access to different information and resources. Granovetter argues that these weak ties are critical for bridging different social networks and providing access to new information and resources.

The strength of weak ties concept can also be applied to other areas of life. For example, weak ties can be particularly important for providing support and assistance during difficult times, such as when dealing with a personal crisis or during a natural disaster. In these situations, it is often our weak ties that can provide the most help and support, as they are more likely to be connected to resources and networks that can aid.

Furthermore, weak ties are also important for the spread of information and ideas. The strength of weak ties theory suggests that information and ideas are more likely to spread through a network when they are passed on by weak ties, rather than strong ties. This is because weak ties are more likely to be connected to people who are not already aware of the information or idea, and therefore are more likely to spread it to new people and networks.

However, it’s also worth noting that the strength of weak ties is a theory that has been widely debated by some sociologists and social scientists. Critics argue that the theory oversimplifies the role of weak ties and that they do not always play a more important role than strong ties (Krämer, 2021). Additionally, the theory doesn’t consider the context of the network and the dynamics of the relationships. Therefore, it’s important to consider the theory as a starting point for understanding the role of weak ties, rather than as a definitive explanation.

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An Indonesian youth, his face covered with toothpaste to counter the effects of teargas speaks on his phone during a clash with police on September 25, 2019 in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo by Ed Wray/Getty Images)

Online vis-à-vis Offline

This paper attempts to look at the youth engagement in the political sphere in Indonesia in different political landscapes. In-depth interviews were conducted with youth activists from two different peer groups, the youth activists of political party, the youth activists of non-governmental organization and the youth activists of ‘independent’ youth organization.

“I was deeply involved in the #ReformasiDikorupsi movement in Indonesia during 2019. It was a massive movement especially among the youth. We wanted a radical political change in Indonesia. We don’t want that the 1998’s reform is corrupted by the oligarchs, one of it is through the weakening of Corruption Law. However, I personally felt that it’s only get stronger online without strong root offline. Yes, the digital has provided us with means to spread the campaign very fast and massive, but it only gives us lots of ‘participants’ on the street protest with lack of the real understanding to the real demands, the radical political change.” (Interviewee 1, member of youth political party).

When questioned about her involvement in grassroots politics in Indonesia, the interviewee provided a clear perspective on the dynamics of the youth movement in response to the weakening of the Corruption Act in Indonesia in 2019. She noted that there was a limited interconnection at the substance level between the online campaign and the offline movement and described the latter as “superficial.” She also highlighted that one of the organizations that was active in online campaigning during this period is now advocating for a “no-vote” in the upcoming 2024 elections, which she views as a major setback. This lack of substantial and profound discussion, both online and offline, is evidence that digital activism can attract large numbers of people, but it is still superficial in nature. She argues that a deeper understanding and connection is needed to sustain effective political movements.

In a different context, during one of the discussions, some members of an independent youth organization spoke about their challenges in political activism, including opposition from other political and pressure groups due to their perceived “leftist” political stance. This organization has been promoting the concept of social justice in its activism efforts for over a decade and has been working to initiate progressive discussions on this subject through both online and offline channels. Despite their efforts, they continue to experience difficulties in building a more substantive and progressive movement. Although they have established connections with other political and advocacy groups, they are still struggling to take their activism to the next level.

Members of an environmental activist group are feeling discouraged as they feel that their efforts to raise awareness about the issues related to forestry, which they have been advocating for years, are not gaining traction beyond their own networks. Despite having connections with other political and advocacy groups, these connections are not leading to meaningful progress in their activism. The youth feel that their substantial discussions on environmental issues are not resonating with other groups that advocate for non-environmental causes. This highlights the challenges faced by activists in breaking out of their echo chamber and reaching a wider audience.

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Young protesters are seen holding a climate emergency banner and placards during a ‘Fridays for Future’ demonstration in Jakarta, Indonesia, on September 20, 2019. (Photo by Afriadi Hikmal/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Leveraging Weak Ties & Youth Politics in Indonesia

With the internet penetration in Indonesia reaching 74% (202.6 million inhabitants) in which 195.3 million users are using mobile internet, Indonesia is one of the largest growing connected nations (IDN Media, 2022). With a rapidly increasing number of internet users, digital technology has become an indispensable tool in political activism and mobilization in Indonesia. As the 2024 election approaches, political and advocacy groups are utilizing digital technology to reconnect and raise awareness about their causes. However, this has also created an environment where it is easy for individuals to become trapped in echo chambers, where they only receive information and ideas that are consistent with their existing beliefs. By exploring the potential of weak ties in political activism, it may be possible to overcome the challenges of echo chambers and promote more inclusive and diverse political discourse among the youth in Indonesia.

This paper argues that a re-examination of the concept of “weak ties” in political activism could provide a better understanding of the echo chamber or “bubble politics” phenomenon that has been prevalent in the political landscape, especially among young people in Indonesia. Investigating the potential of leveraging weak ties between political organizations and advocacy groups to address the issue of echo chambers in the political arena might provide interesting insights. It is believed that while strong ties provide critical support and a sense of community, it is the weak ties that offer exposure to new information, resources, and opportunities. With the rapid advancement of digital technology and the exponential growth of big data, there is now a unique opportunity to analyze the strength of weak ties both online and offline. The integration of computational social science, network science, and big data analysis offers a valuable perspective on the deeper understanding of political dynamics, particularly among the youth in Indonesia and probably beyond.

Irendra Radjawali
KEMITRAAN—Partnership for Government Reform

Banner image: CTC Senen, Jakarta, Indonesia. Yoab Anderson, Unsplash


Kemenkominfo – Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Information (2021).

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Lim, M. (2013). Many clicks but little sticks: Social media activism in Indonesia. Journal of Contemporary Asia.

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