Public Policy, Echo Chamber, and the Post-Truth Era: Has Our Democracy Been Controlled by the Cyberspace?
Mon, 18 Nov 2019 || By Felice Valeria

The Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) stated that in 2018, there had been a total of 292 cases in relation to the Information and Electronic Transaction Laws (UU ITE). It is reported that most of the cases were related to defamation, hate speech, and decency violations in the online sphere consecutively.[1] Most of the articles have mainly been deemed as the most ambiguous due to the free-to-interpret characteristic, and therefore, frequently brought about numerous problems throughout the implementation. The problems were especially prevalent prior to the Presidential Election in the middle of this year, in which political campaigns were incessantly carried out; thus, the laws were often leveraged as political weapons of a candidate’s supporters to contest the opposing candidate by pointing out their ‘wrongdoings’ in cyberspace As a democratic country, the enactment and implementation of policies in Indonesia are unquestionably guided and controlled by its citizens. While it is being the case, it is important to take into account the phenomenon of ‘echo chamber’, a social structure where individuals would actively discredit other irrelevant voices outside the structure – which in this case, the occurrence is prevalent in the cyberspace. This essay will argue that first, the construction of public perception on certain public policy discourses have been radically construed by the post-truth era; second, the burgeoning amount of echo chambers in social media platforms as advocacy tools for public policies has increased the prevailing social and political polarisation in society.

 

The Post-Truth Era: A New ‘Truthiness’?

Currently, social media have not only been used as communication tools, but also as tools to influence public perception and behaviour on certain phenomena – even more radically, according to Manduric (2016), as tools for information warfare.[2] As democratic consolidation by the public has often been conducted in social media, it would therefore be easy for individuals – as users themselves – to deconstruct or manipulate the influence of information on individuals’ interests and behaviour to be more ‘emotionally appealing’ in cyberspace. If people begin to believe on emotions and individual beliefs rather than empirical evidence in denoting certain phenomena, they could be said to be living in the post-truth era.

As public policies have often become the main discourses among social media users to stumble upon, they are therefore becoming more prone to be manipulated. The Information and Electronic Transaction Laws, notwithstanding being widely opposed, have been actively advocated for with different interpretations in many echo chambers. Social media use engine algorithm to choose the information preferred by users, which would eventually trap them in one preferred space. In the case of the perception of the said policies, as people tend to identify themselves with a certain social identity, the interpretation and usage of the laws would therefore be subjectively shifted in accordance with their own political interests through confirmation bias; even if the empirical evidence is absent. For instance, there have been debates on whether a public figure should be arrested subsequent to being alleged of carrying out the act of defamation. Nonetheless, as the alteration of information has been internalised within the individuals belonging to each of the sides, the outcomes of the policy implementation would therefore be different to one another – some people would consider the act as unlawful, while some others would deem it as non-violent to the laws. Subsequently, the majority would determine the outcomes of the policy as how democracy is supposed to work. This is where democracy is assumed to be played by the echo chambers within cyberspace, in which the post-truth facts have shifted the overall public perception toward certain laws or policies, which would eventually also determine the outcomes.

 

Echo Chamber: Increasing Polarisation

Kertesz (2019), the head of CEU’s Department of Data and Network Science, examined the likelihood of social and political polarisation to occur in social media. Through his ‘confidence model’, he found out that the types of echo chambers ignited by social media have lowered the possibility of reaching a consensus.[3] He incorporated the use of ‘algorithmic bias’ on his research to mimic the phenomenon of echo chamber, in which individuals with similar opinions or beliefs are more likely to interact with one another. A larger segregation was resulted in the greater fragmentation of individuals’ opinions, and a much longer time was needed to eventually reach a consensus.[4] As polarisation increases, the vagueness of certain laws (e.g. the Information and Electronic Transaction Laws) would burgeon and the interpretations would differ increasingly. Consequently, the contesting views on the usage and implementation of certain public policies considered as vague are therefore normal to currently be seen.

Overall, the new realm of cyberspace has shifted the way public policies are conceived and interpreted. The democratic processes carried out by individuals are controlled depending on what echo chambers provide for them in social media platforms. While the post-truth era has been deemed as problematic, the prevalent discourses of scholars should be expanded to how the divergence of public policy perception has affected the way it is practiced currently. Hence, it is important for law enforcers to refer to certain established standards in making legal decisions to avoid self-interested interpretation of the ambiguity of particular laws.

Editor: Anaq Duanaiko

Read another article written by Felice Valeria

 

[1] CNN Indonesia. (2019). Kasus UU ITE pada 2018 Tercatat Paling Banyak. [online] Available at: https://www.cnnindonesia.com/teknologi/20190628072024-185-407221/kasus-uu-ite-pada-2018-tercatat-paling-banyak [Accessed 13 Nov. 2019].

[2] Manduric, A. (2016). Social Media as a Tool for Information Warfare. In: Google It - Total Information Awareness, 1st ed. Manhattan: Springer, pp.261-264.

[3] Sîrbu, A., Pedreschi, D., Giannotti, F. and Kertész, J. (2019). Algorithmic bias amplifies opinion fragmentation and polarization: A bounded confidence model. PLOS ONE, 14(3), p.e0213246.

[4] Ibid.,