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Influencers and public policy

Influencers and public policy. Image by

-The writer is a lecturer of the Faculty of Cultural Sciences at Andalas University- 

The government’s use of social media “influencers” has sparked public controversy over its transparency.

Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) found that the government had spent at least Rp90.4 billion (US$6.1 million) to involve the influencers for governmental purposes to promote public programs and policies.

The transparency is greatly linked with the taxpayers’ money use is the major issue of the polemic.

Despite the hullabaloo, social media influencers are currently important people for the impacts they have on the community from their following or subscribers. Like it or not, they should not be viewed negatively nor should we not go ballistic with speculation and suspicion. However, it is not simply to do with the number of subscribers. Rather it lies with the peculiar characteristics they have.

Having a captive audience and loyal following, the influencers could create authentic engagement with the netizens and high-quality contents tailored to promote the government’s policies and programs. I say authentic engagement as the influencer and followers-subscribers relation is one-way traffic, suggesting that they are prone to say yes or someone they follow on Instagram, for example. It is not about logical reasoning for doing something, but emotional engagement that stands between people.

With many slowly but surely turning into netizen marked by a growing number of social media followers-subscribers, message delivery of commercial products or government program and policies would easily achieve the targets when it goes through various social media platforms. Thanks to the platforms, the influencers reach out to people in a speedy manner which comes very handy.

ICW grilled the government about the transparency and logic of relying on the influencers when it comes to promoting its policies and programs. Many doubt the expected role they play to deliver the ruling authority’s messages to the community.  Yet such cynicism might disappear by the time people come to realise that the influencers promise the speed. Fewer people subscribe to mainstream media such as newspaper and magazine, while more and more people activate accounts of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and many other social media platforms. Social media makes conveying information handy.

Thanks to its speedy and handy feature, the influencers provide a more interactive way of communication, which contradicts the government’s old-fashioned approach to public issues. The immediacy of the insights that can be drawn from social media is a “game-changer”. Much government policy is based on out–of–date information – yesterday’s questions answered tomorrow.

Simply put, social media offers a chance to gather real-time insight. Social media influencers assure real-time way of dealing with assorted public matters and interacting with people. Social media usage backed up and cross-referenced by other data sources, present a powerful opportunity for public policymakers and service providers to develop a rich source of real-time, reliable data about social, economic and political issues.

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Seen from their role as a digital spokesperson of public policies and programs, the influencers might act as an intermediary. In academic research, for instance, such a role is instrumental in channelling the research products at university into the government. One of the social media’s great benefits is that it tapers the bandwidth in terms of topics and thus enables targeted dissemination of relevant research findings to policymakers at a time that is of help to them. Researchers would find much easier and more immediate to reach out to certain people than having to go through an academic journal.

For this purpose, the influencers might boost the faster academic environment. Social media is enhancing the transfer of evidence from the research community to policymakers. Hence, the government social research service should work with higher education bodies and the wider research community to develop a legal and ethical framework for research that draws on social media data.

The involvement of influencers to support various public policies and programs is a part of a global trend identified by the soaring power of netizens. Despite their digital existence, netizens are more attracted to actions than mere awareness. The influencers are regarded as driving action rather than simply generating awareness. While awareness stops at a cognitive end, action brings about a real and tangible transformation.

Instead of blaming the influencer due to huge money spent, it would be much better that both government and the influencers do their best to continue engaging with the public. Scapegoating the influencers is tantamount to pretending that the online world does not exist and is not part of someone’s reality.

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