Young Indonesian YouTubers Are Combatting Extremist Hate Speech With Humor
As one of Creators for Change, The Cameo Project is raising awareness on sensitive issues to the world's biggest Muslim population.
Image via YouTube
One Direction and politics are like oil and water: they don't mix. But the Cameo Project, Indonesia's well-known stand-up YouTube boy band, did not hesitate mixing both together.
"People in Indonesia know us because of our parody of 'What Makes You Beautiful' by One Direction. In the video we speak about the need for change in Jakarta and the fact that we needed a new governor," Andry Ganda, one of the six Cameo Project comedians tells VICE Impact.
And they pulled it off. The video was the first in all of Indonesia to go viral.
"It made a huge impact on the elections. The candidate we supported, Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, won the election and was later, in 2014 elected the President of Indonesia," Ganda continues.
The election result marked a sea change in the country's politics. While previous prime ministers hailed from the military and political elite, Widodo, who the Cameo Project rooted for, was an entrepreneur from a humble background, elected with a wave of support from Indonesia's youth for his promise of change and his reputation as a clean politician.
"It made such an important impact because, when it came to politics, no one had been creative or funny like that before," Ganda explains.
Since their 2012 One Direction parody success, the Cameo Project has continued using YouTube as a platform to raise awareness among young Indonesians on social and often sensitive issues, from bullying, to racism and inclusion, using humor.
"When it came to politics, no one had been creative or funny like that before."
Known for their funny and lively videos, the Cameo Project's channel was initially the group's production company's side project. Four years on and with more than 45 million YouTube views, the Cameo Project has been recognized for its work and named one of YouTube's Creators for Change.
Announced in September 2016, Creators for Change is a global initiative dedicated to amplifying and multiplying the internet's young YouTubers that are using their channels to front social change videos and using their voices to promote messages of tolerance and empathy.
"People are looking to YouTube and forming opinions. YouTube is becoming more mainstream in Indonesia and, to the best of my knowledge, it is the second biggest search engine people are using after Google. So, for sure, it's an increasingly important platform," Ganda continues. According to September 2016 data, 89 percent of web users in Indonesia use the platform.
In fact, according Freedom House, with Widodo's presidency, restrictions on the press were lifted and social-media sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook became increasingly popular among users in Indonesia.
However, the surge of online media in Indonesia has not all been harnessed for positive change.
"It has changed the way some politicians play their games. They share information, not all true, to gain people's following. But, the truth is, Indonesians are not used to freedom of speech," Ganan explains and so many are left vulnerable in the face of distorted content.
"Young people, especially, are still getting to grips on how to handle this huge amount of information that has been made available to them via online media," he continues.
Ignorance, is according to Ganan, the biggest problem facing young people today.
How does the Cameo Project tackle ignorance? "We make hard topics easy to understand for everybody by wrapping them with jokes."
Tackling the veracity of information found online has become increasingly urgent for the team.
Recently, Indonesia, home to the world's biggest Muslim population, has suffered from an increasing amount of content inciting religious intolerance and radicalism being shared on the web, with young people especially vulnerable to extremist ideologies.
In fact, a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education and Culture between July and September of 2016 found a high number of students supported the so-called Islamic State and the implementation of nationwide Sharia Law.
"The results showed that 8.5 percent [of students] agreed with the idea of changing Indonesia into a Sharia country and 7.2 percent agreed with the ISIS movement," Nur Berlian Venus Ali, a researcher at the ministry, told Kompas.com, despite the fact that Indonesia protects pluralism and diversity in its constitution.
"We make hard topics easy to understand for everybody by wrapping them with jokes."
In a bid to counter the rise in radicalism, and following months of sectarian upheaval and protests across Indonesia, which saw Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy against Islam, the government issued a decree, on July 12, giving authorities the permission to disband groups deemed harmful to the country's pluralism.
However, rights activists heavily criticized the government's move, saying that it threatened the country's freedom of expression. The New-York-based Human Rights Watch, criticized the move saying it "constitute[d] a troubling infringement of the rights of freedom of association and expression."
For the team behind the Cameo Project, encouraging open and inclusive conversations to increase awareness and tolerance is the best solution to counter hate speech.
And so with the funding and support received through the Creators for Change project, the YouTube channel has teamed up with local non-governmental organizations to create a series of cross-country wide workshops with one of their partners, the Maarif Institute. The aim: use Islamic values, not to incite radicalism but to encourage inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.
The team hopes that these workshops will also help young people navigate the wealth of information available to them online, making them more resilient to extremist hate speech.
Ultimately, the Cameo Project wants to encourage young people to also create videos for positive change on topics that affect their communities, amplifying the country's positive voices online.
"We hope that our videos will inspire and encourage other young Indonesian YouTubers to create content that can bring higher value to people's life," Ganan concluded.
YouTube has partnered with VICE Impact to promote the Creators for Change program. This article was written independently by the VICE Impact editorial staff and was not paid for by YouTube.