In 2013 up until mid 2014, a campaign that aimed to fight against the establishment of tea plantation in Aru Islands became viral on social media, not only did it happen in Indonesia but also became the public talk outside the country. The Aru Islands that was previously not the subject of interest of many people, instead it was only some small dots on the map right below ‘the bird head’ of Papua, then attracted public’s attention, with the growing of hashtag #SaveAru that connected people who barely knew each other to talk about Aru, an islands that was unknown and unimaginable before finally revealed to the world with abundance of information about the islands as well as its potential and people living there.

The #SaveAru movement which initially was coordinated by local people who carried out the resistance movement limited only in Dobo City, the capital of Aru District. And the with the existing of social media, the movement evolved as it attracted many people’s attention with different backgrounds to help the resistance movement. It was noted that musicians such as Glenn Fredly as well as religious leaders, artists, academics, students, local organizations, creative communities, young people, including big organizations participated in one big movement under the flag named #SaveAru.

Social media had enabled such a small movement that impacted on limited environment to cross over time and space to touch anyone’s heart to contribute in preserving the natural wealth of Aru Islands. By using the social media and the right campaign strategy, not only did #SaveAru have the ability to reach many people who were geographically far from Aru but also could generate real actions as a form of direct concern towards the people of Aru. The effect of everyone’s concerns could reach out to the people of Aru eventhough they don’t use such social media technology like the ones used by people in big cities.

The increasing use of technology in Indonesia allows to stimulate more people’s participation to contribute directly and indirectly in managing as well as raising awareness to protect the environment. Based on APJII survey until the end of year 2014, the potential use of internet technology especially in Indonesia itself reached 88 million out of 252 million population of Indonesia where it increased significantly from 7.8% in 2004 to 34.9% in 2015. The biggest number of users was located on the island of Java (52 million), Sumatera (18.6 million), Sulawesi (7.3 million), Kalimantan (4.2 million) and Papua Maluku Nusa Tenggara (5.9 million). Interestingly, the majority of internet users in Indonesia came from the age of 18 – 25 which consist of almost 49%, followed by the age of 26 – 35 which consist of 33.8% and smartphone dominated as the source of how people in Indonesia connect to the internet.

Eventhough many people claim that internet and social media penetration only reach out to Indonesia’s educated middle class people and most of them live in big cities, learning for Aru case, this becomes the antithesis of how a remote island with limited technology could break through not only in Indonesia but also become viral in the international world. And not only that, the reverse effect of a viral information on social media could reach out to the outlying remote villages so that eventually those people realize that they are not alone to protect and manage their natural resources.

The potential of Indonesia on social media which includes 49% of 88 million internet users consisting of young people could be considered as a significant tool for awareness campaign and also to bring people together to participate in protecting the environment. However, not all of those young people living in big cities who is considered as technology and social media users was originally born and grew up in such cities. In many cases, the number of young people who come from villages or other remote area to the big cities, for instance to get higher education, are quite many, so they can become the connector to disseminate information to even the most remote area with their ability.

Creating a system of informations cells by making young people as a significant tool for raising awareness towards the environment is something that can be realized. Creative campaigns to raise awareness towards environment through social media should be brought to the lower level so it can gain local people’s attention related to the benefits of forest around them, not only about the threat to forest far beyond their scope of life, by utilizing these young educated people who are at the same time also social media users. The campaign of forest management should be made with creativity embedding messages to invite to participate using local language so that it can penetrate to the grassroot level. Young people can share their stories with their friends, family, neighbours about the natural resources around them – when they get back to their hometown – that should be protected and managed for the benefit of many people and without ever having to be environment activists, these young people can be the wise guards of the environment and also the conservationist.

Writer: Almascatie (Runner-up of 2015 SDA Writing Competition)
Source: Forest Watch Indonesia