Religion, Social Media and Act of Bullying*

In May 2017, Putra Mario Alfian, a 15 years old boy was persecuted by a mob claiming as part of one of the Islamic organizations in Indonesia, FPI (Front of the Islamic Defenders). Starting from his uploads in social media that is considered insulting Islam and ulama Habib Rizieq. He was dragged from his house to the head of the neighborhood. He was beaten and scolded along the way. He came from a poor family with 7 children and at that moment his mother could not protect him from the rampage of the masses. This case triggered discussions related to persecution cases throughout June 2017, quoting from SAFEnet, in this year until November 2017 there were 100 cases of persecution, fourteen of them were ended in court. All of the cases started from things that uploaded and speech in social media.

Last November one of the Indonesian public figure, known as Rina Nose, decided to remove her hijab (headscarf). She posted a photo without hijab on her Instagram account. Within seconds, the post was flooded with thousands of comments and the majority of them were negative. The commentators questioned her faith in Islam. Insinuate how weak her faith is. Some have tried to protect or defend her. Not just a few of them who dropped her pride with harsh words and contempt for her physique weakness. Some celebrity gossip accounts have reposted the upload, reported in an exclusive frame and lobbed thousands of other comments with the same pros and cons.

The cases are just small examples about how social media today facilitates the dissemination of information, as well as the spread of hatred. This cannot be separated from how the media construct the religion so far. In the beginning, national media and television became the main facilitators.  The allegiance to Islam as a majority religion is evident in the selection of television programs. Religious nuances of Islam present in many programs, both ahead of Ramadan and during ordinary days. While the intensity of the program to represent religious minorities is very limited. Religion, in this case Islam, is described as a whole good. The public figures who show their religious side gain a lot of praise. While those who show the opposite action, will get insults and bullying both in social media and news columns. At a later stage, this trend evolved with religious imaging as a tool. Public figures who stumble over scandals and criminal cases begin to show their religious side as imaging to dampen public anger. Some of them are present in court using ‘peci’, suddenly wearing hijab and always naming God in every interview. In various discussions and social issues, religion is always linked and become one of the triggers of conflict. Especially in social media, where most of fake accounts are scattered with hatred, and comments can be written or deleted at any time. The issue of religion is always been discussed and the criticism of it is more taboo than the discussion about sex or pornography. While the effect will become more heated when it is related to politics.

I borrowed 2 classic theories about religion in social construction to analyze this phenomenon. First, according to Emile Durkheim’s theory of religion as a sharing identity, this bullying behavior in the name of religion can be understood as an act of solidarity. Religion becomes a symbol that unites many people from different backgrounds. Religion as primordial and shared identity is an exclusive commonality that unites them, a binder that makes them feel the solidarity. When they feel that their symbols are threatened or harassed, they move with alibis to defend and protect it. The similarity of the values and rules adopted to make the perpetrators of bullying and persecution felt to have the ability to distinguish what is right and what is wrong in the social community. What is wrong should be justified. The way can be various, one of them by doing the act of oppression and persecution.

Meanwhile, Karl Mark and his phenomenal statement: Religion as the opium of the people, he interpreted religion not only as an escape from hopelessness life, but he also saw religion as a tool of legitimacy. The context behind it may be different because Karl Mark’s social class theory refers to industrial development in the 19th century. Yet the pattern is the same. In this case, bullying in the name of religion in social media can be interpreted as an effort to show superiority. Those who do bullying in the case of Rina Nose are feel closer to religion, have higher knowledge in Islam, stronger faith in God and because of that they think they have the right to judge. In this case religion becomes the distinction, an unwritten identity that shows that one is superior to the other.

It is difficult to find solutions to deal with bullying cases that occur from social media or in social media. Today’s society does not stutter with technology, but rather we are experiences a kind of ‘shock’ culture. Internet connection and technological sophistication are not accompanied nor balanced by education on how to make good use of both. Ethics on interacting in cyberspace is not part of our society. Hoax is easier to spread than fact. Clarification comes second. Every case of bullying that ends in terror and persecution is evidence that, despite its incident in the virtual world, the consequences can be very real to the victim. Therefore, in case of cyberbullying and persecution, the law must intervene. Thus the awareness of the consequences of each act is not only felt by the victim, but also by the perpetrator. Not just the government, but all those who believe that religion—in this case, Islam—is a peacemaker, those blessed with education and siding with humanity, must cooperate to uphold the law and prevent any form of bullying.



*Written for the final assignment of the Academic Study of Religion.

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