Dr Ross Tapsell

Dr Ross Tapsell

Dr Ross Tapsell, Lecturer in Asian Studies, ANU

Digital Media Battlefields in Indonesia

There is little doubt Indonesia’s mainstream media landscape has become increasingly oligopolistic. At the same time, the emergence of digital media has allowed for individual citizens to attempt to usurp elite messages, and attempt to shift the course of events in Indonesian politics and society.

In contemporary Indonesia, what do citizens do when are aggrieved by government or elite decision-making? Local parliamentarians, security forces and legal avenues are largely distrusted, while large-scale protests are seen as methods of a by-gone Reformasi era. Rather, when many ‘ordinary’ Indonesians with internet access wish to express their disappointment with government policy, they increasingly tend to do so online and via social media. As a result, new digital media spaces are key avenues where Indonesians feel they have some autonomy in affecting change.

Led predominantly by urban, middle-class youth, Indonesia’s increasingly participatory media environment has enabled the manipulation of news and information of media oligarchs. This paper examines some of these sites of contestation and manipulation as ‘counter-oligarchic’. The future is uncertain as to whether media oligarchs will control digital platforms or whether previously unheard voices will gain more traction, but this paper argues that digital media is becoming a key ‘battlefield’ between large, powerful oligarchs and ordinary citizens looking to bring about rapid and meaningful change.


Ross Tapsell is a lecturer and researcher on Indonesia and Malaysia.   His main research interests include Southeast Asian society, with a particular interest in digital technologies and their relationship to society, culture, media and politics.  Upon completion of his PhD in History, Ross was a recipient of the Australian Government Endeavour Postdoctorate Award. He has been a Visiting Fellow at The University of Indonesia (Jakarta), Airlangga University (Surabaya) and Indiana University (Bloomington, US). He has previously worked in Indonesia with The Jakarta Post and the Lombok Post.  Ross is involved in a number of Southeast-Asia activities at the ANU, including the Indonesia Project, the Southeast Asia Institute, and the academic news/analysis website New Mandala. He is also on the editorial board of the scholarly journal Asiascape: Digital Asia (Brill). For more see Dr Ross Tapsell’s staff profile.