On December 11 2020, Indonesia government announced two COVID-19 vaccination schemes; the government (public) and independent (private) scheme. Upon hearing this news, the public immediately reacted against it by raising an online petition on the Change.org website asking the government to make vaccines free for all Indonesians. The objective of this study is to identify which model of Agenda Building applied here and examine how Agenda Building in digital democracy, especially those carried out by the public outside government occurs in the digital space and changes the interests of society into public policy. The method applied is a qualitative method by using library research. This study shows that the online petition phenomenon meets all principles of the Outside Initiative Model on Agenda Building in the digital space and is proven to be effective in turning public demand into public policy. Within five days, there were more than 7,500 virtual signatures supporting the policy, exceeding the initial target of 2,500 signatures. As a result, the government decided to make vaccines free for all Indonesians. To conclude, it is proven that political participation carried out by the public through digital media does not erode any democratic value at all, in fact, it strengthens it.
Keywords: Agenda building, COVID-19, online petition, outside initiative model, political participation
On December 11, 2020, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Indonesia announced to the media that there will be two COVID-19 vaccination schemes; the government (public) and independent (private) scheme. The government is targeting vaccination coverage of 107 million people, of which 75 million are for the independent vaccination scheme group, and 32 million for the government program vaccination scheme. Vaccination will be carried out in stages and prioritize priority groups with higher health risks. In the government's vaccination program, the government prioritizes health workers, essential public service personnel, and vulnerable groups. As for the independent scheme, the government targets economic actors, participants of the Healthcare and Social Security Agency, non-health care, and general public (Azizah, 2020). Spokesperson for the COVID-19 Task Force, Wiku Adisasmito, also added that the government will continue to inform the public about the benefits of vaccines and be transparent about the road map to avoid disinformation and spread of hoax news (Shofihara, 2020).
President Joko Widodo directed that the implementation must go through and follow principles based on scientific data and health standards. The Indonesian government plans to buy four 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for distribution to the public (CNN Indonesia, 2021). The four COVID-19 vaccines are Sinovac, Novavax, AstraZeneca, and BioNTech Pfizer (Ahdira, 2020). Based on data from the Ministry of Health obtained on January 12 2021, positive cases of COVID-19 increased by 10,047 patients to a total of 846,765 cases with a death rate increased by 302 to a total of 24,465 cases, making Indonesia the country with the highest number of active COVID-19 cases in South East Asia (Asmara, 2021). Seeing cases of COVID-19 that do not seem to be improving, vaccination really needs to be done before death cases return to a higher record.
Even so, the public showed a negative reaction because there were plans in which people were asked to pay to be vaccinated. If the vaccine is not free, there will be a gap in which the middle to upper class can easily access the vaccine, while the lower class is waiting for free vaccine assistance. The results of a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health also showed that 64.8% of participants were willing to be vaccinated if the vaccine was free, while 27.6% of participants doubted the government's vaccination plan and as many as 7.6% refused to be vaccinated. The survey results involving 11,000 participants also showed that 35% of them were willing to pay, 38% did not want to pay, and the rest were still in doubt (Yulisman, 2020). Not long after the news about the vaccination scheme, the public raised an online petition on the Change.org website asking the government to make the COVID-19 vaccine free for all Indonesians (Bestari, 2021). Online petitions provide space for people to participate in creating change. Not only conveying protests or criticisms of government performance, the community can also participate in other important issues (Hamid, 2015).
Digitalization in the modern era has provided many opportunities for people to participate in social and political spheres. The public uses the Internet as a medium to influence the running of the political system (Boulianne, 2009). Social media has many positive impacts in facilitating access to education about more affordable social and political spaces so that the public can know what is going on (Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2010). In Indonesia, people are starting to participate in various political activities in the digital space. Research also shows that in Indonesia, social media is the media with the highest persistence in political participation and activism (Ida et al., 2020). There are many reasons why the public wants to participate in social and political activities. They consider that this is one way they can make significant changes. The more people involved in political activities, the more people will understand the political situation in their country, so that they can voice their aspirations to the running of the government. Thus, the public can find solutions to various problems by engaging in democratic activities.
This phenomenon is the example of Agenda Building theory that takes place particularly in digital space works. According to the original conceptor, Cobb et al. (1976), Agenda Building happens when different subgroups in a population have awareness and participate in political event whether the issues are initiated by the group themselves or by political actors. In Agenda Building perspective, there are two types of agendas: the public agenda that consists of issues that require public interest and participation, and the formal agenda that is the issues which decision makers, in this case political actors, have formally acceptedfor serious consideration. Essentially, Agenda Building is a process of agenda formation in the media (Berkowitz, 1994). In relation to politics, issues that are reported in the media have certain agendas that various parties want to achieve. vaccine assistance. This argument is also supported by various survey results conducted by the Ministry of Health. Therefore, this paper will examine how digitalization affects public political participation in the online petition "Free Covid-19 Vaccines for All Indonesians!" and how the Agenda Building, especially those carried out by the group outside the government occurs in the digital space.
The study of Agenda Building requires an understanding of how different groups in a population become aware of and ultimately participate in political conflict, regardless of whether the issue is initiated by the general public or political actors (Cobb et al., 1976). Two agendas contained in this concept; (1) a public agenda containing issues that have become the greatest concern of the general public; and (2) a formal agenda which becomes the decision of political actors after further consideration. The public agenda consists of issues that (1) are of great concern to the public; (2) requires further action in appropriate proportions before the public, and (3) is of concern to the government. The four stages in the Agenda Building conceptualized by Cobb et al. (1976) are:
1. Initiation: issues, criticisms, concerns, concerns or controversies arise.
2. Specification: a group has a particular interest in the form of a program, policy or activity.
3. Expansion: the group takes action or spreads issues to achieve their interests.
4. Entrance: the issue has achieved the goal or interest.
Furthermore, Cobb classifies the Agenda Building into three models where in each model, the four stages above have different roles:
Outside Initiative Model
This model is initiated by parties outside the government. This model focuses first on the public agenda which then becomes the formal agenda. This model applies to situations where groups outside the government: 1) have an interest in a particular issue, 2) try to disseminate the highlighted issue to get enough attention so that it becomes the public agenda, in an effort 3) to create pressure on decision makers to take it into consideration and further formal agenda.
This model is initiated by parties within the government. This model focuses on how interested parties attempt to implement certain policies by spreading issues from the formal agenda to the public agenda. This model describes the Agenda Building process in a situation where political actors create new policies that require mass support.
Inside Initiative Model
This model is initiated by parties around the government and where the supporters of these parties do not disseminate certain information to the general public. The parties who have interests and their supporters depend on them so that these interests can be achieved. In some cases, they will make various efforts so that the issues they initiate do not spread widely to the general public. In other words, they don't want this agenda to be public. The comparison of the four stages of the Agenda Building in the three models above can be described as follows in Table 1:
The three dimensions of digital democracy refer to: 1) digital democracy facilitates access and exchange of political information by the government, public administration, people's representatives, political organizations and society, including society itself, 2) digital democracy facilitates public discussion and debate and the emergence of a political community, and 3) digital democracy increases public participation in decision making (Tsagarousianou, 1999).
Information provision refers to the availability of information regarding public relations and public policies that are announced and accessed by the public and policy makers. Information provision also refers to activities to seek, collect, share, and create political information.
Deliberation is a public space that facilitates dialogue between the public, society and other parties. Deliberation affects how the public voices opinions, demands, debates, negotiates, and others in political participation.
Participation in decision making
As one of the elements in political participation, decision making is related to collective action in policy making. Collective action itself is seen from two dimensions: 1) represented and institutionalized participation and independent participation. The second dimension has the highest potential for collective action, because the interaction model found on the internet facilitates the public in initiating independent and autonomous participation. In a related perspective, the context of digital democracy, the ideal political participation must include two dimensions: 1) collecting political information through online media, and 2) public discussion in online forums (Min, 2010). Broadly speaking, cyberspace must be able to accommodate differences and decentralization. Public discussions in cyberspace must be open, respect differences, and respect collectivity values (Hacker & Van Dijk, 2000).
Initially, digital democracy has one goal, that is to adapt local government institutions to technological developments to make it more democratic (Gibson et al., 2004). Digital democracy programs are made with the idea of connecting democratic values with technological change. For that, it is necessary to have a classification of the types of digital democracy in question, including:
It considers each individual to be a decision maker who has their own autonomy. Representation can be replaced by independent cyber citizens who act as people in charge in a democratic space without political actors acting as intermediaries or guides (Ilshammar, 1997).
It refers to a group of people who have or believe in different issues discussing, debating, and deliberating. This type of democracy in the digital space focuses more on public debate as a political means. Participation is considered not only as a way to place power in someone but also to educate and provide an opportunity to voice opinions. Interactive democracy requires respect, confidence, tolerance, and openness as main commodities (Friedland, 1996).
In indirect democracy, only political actors participate in the political process. This is because this type of democracy assesses that ordinary citizens are have little interest and / or qualifications to participate. The decision makers have room to maneuver and carry out their political program. The three types of digital democracy can be described in the following table 2:
Online Political Participation and Social Media Contribution
The development of digital technology (Web 2.0) has changed political dynamics (Ash et al., 2018; Spencer, 2017) due to the use of social networking sites (SNS) on a large scale. Hence, SNS has been recognized as a social conversion technique that can effectively be used to participate in political and social spheres (Feenstra & Casero-Ripollés, 2014). There have been many arguments being discussed about social media and political debate (Theocharis, 2015). Regular participation either in social media, offline, or online can urge governments or public officials to take action (Verba et al., 1995). Political participation in the digital era must adapt to the affordability of digital platforms such as social networking sites. The use of social media and political participation includes sharing content with fellow social media users which can influence political knowledge, political behavior, and motivate online political participation (Bode, 2017).
Over time, there has been a decline in the use of offline petitions and an increase in the use of online petitions (Sheppard, 2015). Petitions have long been known as a symbol of social movements that promote the most votes and the amount of public support to make a change (Della Porta & Diani, 2006). Online petitions have proven to be an effective tool for bringing about change in societies and governments. One of the factors that make online petitions effective is the reduced cost of participation, distribution, and regulation (Briassoulis, 2012; Margetts et al., 2013). In addition, online petitions also do not put a limit on the maximum number of supporters who can sign the petition.
One of the popular online petition sites on digital platforms is Change.org. Quoted from its official page, the site has 114 million users and thousands of petitions in categories ranging from women's human rights to economic equality. Each petition is accompanied by a letter addressed to the target of the petition. Users can virtually sign petitions with just one click. The number of signatures is also displayed on the petition page. The petition will be considered successful if the number of signatures has exceeded the target set by the petitioner.
The public reaction to the vaccine scheme announced by the government showed a negative reaction because there were plans in which people were asked to pay to be vaccinated. If the vaccine is not free for all Indonesians, there will be a gap in which the middle to upper class can easily access the vaccine, while the lower class is waiting for the free vaccine assistance. This argument is also supported by various survey results conducted by the Ministry of Health. This paper will further discuss this phenomenon and its related concept, Agenda Building. Agenda Building refers to the efforts of a group to make their interests the interests of policy makers (Cobb et al., 1976). This paper will examine how digitalization affects public political participation in the online petition "Free Covid-19 Vaccines for All Indonesians!" and how the Agenda Building, especially those carried out by the group outside the government occurs in the digital space.
This study will therefore address the following research questions:
- Which model of Agenda Building that applies on the Online Petition "Free Covid-19 Vaccines for All Indonesians!"?
- How is the implementation of Agenda Building on the Online Petition "Free Covid-19 Vaccines for All Indonesians!"?
Purpose of the Study
Therefore, the purpose of this study includes:
- To identify which model of Agenda Building that applies on on the Online Petition "Free Covid-19 Vaccines for All Indonesians!"
- To describe the implementation of Agenda Building on the Online Petition "Free Covid-19 Vaccines for All Indonesians!"?
This study paradigm uses positivistic research, a method of combining deductive logic and empirical observations of individual behavior in confirming hypotheses that can be used to predict or provide patterns in human activity (Neuman, 2014). The main characteristic of positivistic research is the belief that objective reality can only be obtained through empirical observation, study of variables, theory development that allows prediction, explanation, control, and observation in the form of quantitative data (Baxter & Babbie, 2004). To collect data, the analysis is based on library research. This research involves a collection of some textbooks, Journals, articles, virtual resources and internet access. The main resources of this research are the online petition carried out by Sulfikar Amir, Agenda Building theory conceptualized by Cobb and Elder in 1971 and related articles (as cited in Cobb et al., 1976).
The result concludes that this petition applies to the Outside Initiative Model on Agenda Building. The implementation of the Outside Initiative Model is initiated by parties or groups who have issues, interests, or concerns originating from outside the government (Cobb et al., 1976). At this stage, parties or groups that have concerns about certain issues seek support from other groups who have the same views so that these concerns change from what was originally a public agenda to a formal agenda and then further shaped into policies by policy makers.
The first step taken is the initiation stage. In the petition, the initiator asked for support from the general public so that the government would hear and pay more attention to this issue. In the digital era, political participation from society has become increasingly easy. Political participation is the involvement of citizens in every policy step, starting with decision making to assessing decisions, including opportunities to participate in the implementation of decisions (Abidin, 2012). The online petition platform is a tool for monitoring and advocating for government policies. With online petition platforms such as Change.org, the public can be involved in the running of the country by criticizing or protesting against the government. Online petitions simplify traditional petitions so that people can easily support petitions without spending a lot of effort, time and money. By making people more connected, it becomes easier to get support and care. One of the factors that can influence the success of online petitions is making policy makers the target of petitions and how petition raisers make all attention to the petition through other policy advocacy activities (Simamora, 2017). What the initiator did was right, by targeting policy makers, President Joko Widodo, as the target of the petition.
The next stage is specification. At this stage, the party who presents the criticism or concern translates the issues brought into more detail and specifics. Quoted from the original content of the petition, the initiator made four requests to President Joko Widodo, including:
1. Disbanding the independent vaccine program managed by the Minister of BUMN.
2. Providing free COVID-19 vaccines to all Indonesian citizens without exception.
3. Forming a national COVID-19 vaccination task force under the president consisting of medical experts, public health experts, social science experts and economists who plan and supervise the COVID-19 vaccination program in an equitable, transparent and fair manner.
4. Improving the data and information system for handling COVID-19 nationally as the basis for implementing vaccinations for all Indonesian citizens.
Not long after this petition was made, many other petitions were initiated by various levels of society with the same issue, asking the government to eliminate the COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, public participation in social media in voicing the same thing and providing expressions of support for petitions is also an example of a specification step, where the initiator seeks and gets support from parties who have the same concerns or interests.
The next stage is Expansion. At this stage Cobb et al. (1976) explained, "In order to be successful in getting on the formal agenda, outside groups need to create sufficient pressure or interest to attract the attention of decision makers" (p. 176). In order to change the public agenda into a formal agenda, the public needs to create "pressure" to get support from policy makers. In this case, every support in the form of a virtual signature from the public will automatically send an e-mail to the target of the petition, namely President Joko Widodo. In addition, the contribution of the mass media is crucial. The more the mass media covers the news about this online petition, the higher the public's awareness of this issue, and the more support it will get. A study concluded that Change.org petitions more than 250 times a day in the world (Isaacson, 2014). This shows that the media is participating in supporting the democratic movement by reporting petitions containing important issues considering that this will also generate a lot of engagements. On social media, online petitions are also shared by netizens ranging from Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Instagram to more private media such as WhatsApp and e-mail. In addition, other things that the initiators did when raising the petition were sharing personal stories, describing the impacts caused by the pandemic, and explaining what the government has done so far. The initiator criticized the government on how they controlled the pandemic. He also wrote that thousands of people died, millions lost their jobs, the economy went into recession. In addition, he compared the situation of Indonesia with other countries that have managed to control the pandemic better. This can target a public's emotional bond as they share it, so providing support should come as no surprise.
The final stage of implementing the Outside Initiative Model in the Agenda Building is Entrance, which is the process of turning public agenda into a formal agenda in the hands of policy makers. Since it was raised last December, the petition "Free Covid-19 Vaccines for All Indonesians!" has been signed by 11,403 supporters of the target of 2500 supporters. On December 16, 2020, President Joko Widodo announced a new policy that vaccines would be free for all Indonesians (Ahdira, 2020). Through the Presidential Secretariat Youtube video, Jokowi said that this decision was made after receiving a lot of public input and making calculations regarding state finances. Furthermore, he immediately gave directions to his staff to allocate a budget for COVID-19 vaccination (See in Table 3).
In addition, from the results of the analysis, an online petition entitled "Free Covid-19 Vaccines for All Indonesians!" the Change.org website is an example of Direct Democracy in digital democracy where the goal is equality, in this case is making free vaccines for all Indonesian people, and the role of petitioners who represent society without any political actors as intermediaries. Apart from that, the role of ICT here, the Change.org website, is a medium for the public to sign petitions. The combination of digitalization and politics has long been associated with the concept of Direct Democracy, where technology is seen as a catalyst for democratic activities such as exchanging opinions, engaging in discussions, and mobilizing opinions. Following are the results of an analysis of how digitalization affects political participation.
First, digitalization in political participation supports mutual understanding and tolerance through the exchange of ideas and opinions. Although much of the political discussion in Indonesia is offline compared to online, the presence of digital space acts as a new channel for exchanging political ideas and opinions. The distribution of messages that are not based on facts or personal experiences can be considered as an exchange of ideas but does not necessarily lead to a discussion of the current issue (Gibson et al., 2004). Online deliberation generally involves certain actors by pushing communities apart from the physical distance between their members. As happened in the case of the online petition there are actors who act as petition raisers. Then, they asked for support from all Indonesian people to support the government in changing the policy for the COVID-19 vaccine program.
Second, the digitalization of political participation includes every individual without discrimination in any democratic activity. Digitalization allows each individual to participate in the democratic process by providing new channels or means that can facilitate the involvement of all parties. In principle, the Internet acts as a provider of a “play” arena capable of reducing traditional boundaries that are often encountered in offline spaces whether people act as voters, activists, advocates, or political candidates. As was done by Change.org, a site used for raising petitions. The site has 114 million users and thousands of petitions in categories ranging from women's rights to economic equity. Research also states that online petition sites change.org more than 250 times a day in the world (Isaacson, 2014). This shows that the media is participating in supporting the democratic movement by reporting petitions containing important issues considering that this will also generate a lot of engagement. On social media, online petitions are also shared by netizens ranging from Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Instagram to more private media such as WhatsApp and e-mail. The internet does not respect anyone who can sign online petitions and does not force anyone to get involved. Instead, the existence of democratic activities in the digital space can actually invite groups of people who were previously indifferent to what is happening in their surroundings (Anduiza et al., 2013; Hall, 2012) including the existence of discrimination in real life.
Third, digitalization in political participation can strengthen pluralism and diversity. The Internet has made it possible for every user to disseminate as much political information as possible, that also includes disinformation. Although it can be used to spread disinformation or even manipulate it, the Internet also contributes to providing tools and information capable of empowering people who can think critically about the content they access. When the petition was made, many community groups flocked to sign it virtually, regardless of their political leaning. Since it was raised in December last year, the petition "Free Covid-19 Vaccines for All Indonesians!" has been signed by 11,403 supporters of the target as of januari from, exceeding the initial target of 2500 supporters. This shows that regardless of their filter bubbles (Pariser, 2012), the differences in society do not matter when there are issues of common interest, free vaccines for the entire Indonesians.
Fourth, digitalization in political participation can bridge society and government. Access to services for the community has become easier and the government has become more responsive, reactive and proactive to the voice of the people. On December 16, 2020, five days after the petition was made, President Joko Widodo announced a new policy that vaccines would be free for all Indonesians (Ahdira, 2020). Through the Presidential Secretariat Youtube video, Jokowi said that this decision was made after receiving a lot of public input and making calculations regarding state finances. Furthermore, he immediately gave directions to his staff to allocate a budget for COVID-19 vaccination. This incident is a breath of hope for people's political participation and how the digital space bridges the relationship between people in Indonesia and the government. Digitalization is proven to make it easier for the public to voice their opinions and thus improve the performance of the government and also their communication with the public (Roemmele, 2017).
The implementation of the Outside Initiative Model in the Agenda Building theory for this phenomenon has succeeded in turning the public agenda into a formal agenda. The Outside Initiative Model in the Agenda Building was initiated by parties outside the government, in this case Sulfikar Amir, who was supported by the Indonesian people. This case study focuses first on the public agenda which then becomes the formal agenda. The application of the Outside Initiative Model in raising the online petition "Free Covid-19 Vaccines for All Indonesians!" The Change.org website also fulfills the principles of the Outside Initiative Model, this movement applies to situations where groups outside the government 1) have an interest in certain issues, in this case asking for a policy to free vaccines for all Indonesian people, 2) trying to spread the issue which is highlighted to get sufficient attention so that it becomes the public agenda through online petitions that are widespread in the public space in digital media, in an effort 3) to create pressure on decision makers to make it a serious consideration and then a formal agenda, in this case the government finally provides free vaccines for the whole community. The strategy adopted is to use digital media and social media to voice criticism of the government's decision to commercialize the COVID-19 vaccine through an online petition. The movement, which originally only originated from a citizen who cares about his country, has developed into a public agenda that is widely discussed in the realm of the digital public space or not, has received support from the public and community leaders, and has become a policy. Political participation carried out by the public through digital media does not tarnish democratic values at all, instead it strengthens them. The government is also cooperative and solutive in hearing public aspirations.
In addition, this phenomenon is also an example of Direct Democracy, where the goal is equality, in this case making free vaccines for all Indonesian people, and the role of petitioners who represent society without the existence of political actors as intermediaries. Apart from that, the role of ICT here, the Change.org website, is a medium for the public to sign petitions. In addition, in this case, digitalization is able to influence political participation with the results of the analysis: 1) digitalization in political participation supports mutual understanding and tolerance through the exchange of ideas and opinions, 2) digitalization in political participation embraces every individual without discrimination in any democratic activity, 3) digitalization in political participation can strengthen pluralism and diversity, and 4) digitalization in political participation can bridge society with the government. Although digitalization can change many aspects of people's political participation, there are still many tasks that the state must do to adapt to technological developments while still strengthening democratic values. Digitalization in political participation does not make things more or less democratic, it requires stronger efforts and cooperation between government and society.
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31 January 2022
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Communication, Media, Disruptive Era, Digital Era, Media Technology
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Nisahati, D. R. (2022). "Agenda Building on the Online Petition “Free Covid-19 Vaccines for All Indonesians!”. In J. A. Wahab, H. Mustafa, & N. Ismail (Eds.), Rethinking Communication and Media Studies in the Disruptive Era, vol 123. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 388-400). European Publisher. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2022.01.02.33