Stop enabling extremism through ignorance

by Hillary Bakrie

This piece was originally published in the Jakarta Post.It has been three days of tension and terror since the first bomb attack struck a church in Surabaya. There were five attempted detonations, where three of them succeeded and took innocent lives.

Hundreds of social media posts have followed since then. Indonesians shared their voices of anger, grief and disappointment on all three major channels — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

In our grief today, we learn to be more careful about our posts and avoiding the things we should not share to provoke terrorism. In our grief today, we learn that hashtags such as #kamitidaktakut and #WeAreNotAfraid have the power to build solidarity in diversity, giving a sense of comfort to those who are anxious about their safety. But with our grief today, we should have learned that our online activism could’ve been done sooner.

In the age of interconnectedness and ease of access to information, the internet and social media have the power to both start a revolution or a war. In some cases, terrorism and violent extremism didn’t just start at some radical institutions. Rather they start on the edge of one’s fingertips — hateful views that are typed over some smartphone’s keyboard and shared over some free social media platform. In other words, some terrorists don’t work on the ground, they work on the web.

Social media has been one of the channels of radicalization. In 2017, 2,691 peoplein Indonesia were under the government’s surveillance on terror groups, and one of the platforms that exposed them to extremism is social media. Although the significance of social media as a terrorist recruitment channel is constantly debated, it is important to note that at the very least, social media offers a convenient way to breed hatred and extremism.

As a country with the fourth-largest population of active Facebook users in the world, Indonesians have been known for their fondness of social media. It is not uncommon for Indonesian netizens to express, post and repost their views online, and therefore online platforms are always one of the preferred channelsto provoke conflict among Indonesians. Even before the terrorist attacks over the past few days, every now and then it seems quite common for Indonesians to come across hateful content. In 2016 alone, the police reportedly handled 199 cases of hate speech spread through messaging applications.

Although the government seems to be taking responsibility by blocking websitesrelated to radicalism, attempts to prevent extremism from growing will require the action of netizens as well.

Violent extremism will be less likely to grow if there isn’t any audience to feed.

And frankly, it is up to us to stop or expand this. By consciously ignoring the growth of radical social media users and not taking any action to report them, we are contributing to the expansion of this problem. By engaging in hateful discussions that target minority groups, we are creating space for intolerance to grow. It is time for all of us to realize that our online activism is not only defined by the things that we do, but also the things we did not do.

So remember, the next time we ignore some preaching that sound hateful and extreme, the next time we passively scroll through the comment section on some racist post, the next time we choose to not report or block such accounts, we are enabling this to happen.

Today, let us all reflect back to our online presence. Have we, or the people we know, become an Enabler without even realizing it in the first place? Have we taken enough responsible online actions to help solve this problem? It is time for us today to realize that even a small online action could’ve prevented conflict to escalate. It is time for us to stop enabling extremism and giving terrorism room to grow. (kes)


Hillary is an MSGA Student focusing on international development and peace building, and a United Nations intern. She is a proud collector of Simone de Beauvoir’s work and enjoys spoken poetry.

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