by: Harry Febrian
this article was first published in The Jakarta Post
Everybody was shocked by the attack in Jakarta on Jan. 14 that resulted in the deaths of eight people, including the alleged perpetrators, and dozens injured. Suddenly, Jakarta became the center of the world’s attention.
Terrorism is complicated and sometimes hard to define. Jeffrey D. Simon (1994), for example, reports that at least 212 different definitions of terrorism exist across the world. But from all the hustle and bustle of hundreds of definitions, researchers Alex Schmid and Albert Jungian from the University of Leiden found that “causing fear” is a concept that appears in 51 percent as the main component of terrorism.
As the tragedy was unfolding, emotional messages poured out through social media. People were angry, sad and shocked. But if fear was what the terrorists hoped to inflict, they failed.
Within hours, people took back social media in an act of defiance. People showed solidarity through hashtags, tweets, statuses and even memes. Jokes were exchanged, shared and reshared. Instead of talking about the terrorists, people discussed ordinary people: a satay seller who calmly grilled his wares near the crime scene, police personnel and their good looks, people taking selfies near the blast debris and much more. Some even took to Instagram, selling shoes similar to the ones worn by pictured police officers.
People have hailed this as an example of Indonesian resilience in the midst of terror. For some, this might be analyzed not as an act of bravery, but ignorance. The pessimism, of course, has a legitimate standing. But to see it in another perspective, especially from the Islamic State (IS) movement, which claimed responsibility for the attack, these trivial things can deal a huge blow to their plans to expand their network in Indonesia.
To understand this, we must go back to the beginning of IS. In 2014, the term “femtorisk” was coined by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America (PNAS). From the word “femto”, a prefix meaning one-quadrillionth, the term is used to refer “a numerically small phenomenon capable of exerting an outsized impact on global politics”.
IS fits this definition perfectly. It started as a tiny nucleus of terrorist operatives, evolved into al-Qaeda in Iraq and erupted into a full-scale insurgency with significant local and international support (Peter Berger, 2015). Imagine IS, less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, managing to spark an endless controversy over what is and what is not Islam. With a few thousand fighters, they managed to capture (for a while) Mosul, a city of 1.5 million people.
But perhaps there is no better example for IS as a femtorisk than its social media presence. One study from the Brookings Institution (2015), for example, estimated that there were at least 46,000 Twitter accounts that were used by IS supporters between September and December 2014, with an average of 1,000 followers each, considerably higher than ordinary Twitter users.
Furthermore, around 500 to 2,000 accounts were a group of highly active users who sent more than 50 tweets on average per day. From this considerably small number, especially compared to the monthly Twitter user base of 288 million, they managed to gain a disproportionate amount of attention.
Indeed, this was one of the most useful tools for IS to amplify (and sometimes exaggerate) its influences through social media. Aside from Twitter, IS is also very good at spreading radical propaganda through Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. They aren’t shy about using Hollywood-like movies to promote their lifestyle. We can see whenever there are any casualties inflicted by its members, such as in the Paris attacks, that IS quickly uses them to spread “fear”, which results in amplifying their influence.
This is when Indonesia’s small acts of defiance through social media come into play to deal a huge blow to IS. Not only does it use the moment faster than IS can, it ridicules the effect that IS tries to use to amplify its social media propaganda. For a group whose media strategy is to amplify its brutality through social media to scare its enemies (Adam Weinstein, 2015), to have its stage taken away in front of its eyes, it is analogous to a paper tiger.
When they not only failed to cause serious damage in the attack, but also on social media, the only thing that was amplified was the antithesis to IS’ goal: that fear is not in our dictionary. This means that IS will remain a tiny nucleus with no real power in Indonesia. Or in simpler words, IS just does not belong here in Indonesia.
The writer is a communications research coordinator and a media and journalism lecturer at Multimedia Nusantara University, Serpong, Banten.