On social media, Indonesians fight back against dangerous COVID-19 conspiracy theories

Left: I Gede Ari Astina, or Jerinx. Right: Twitter screengrab of one of Jerinx’s critics. Photos: Facebook and Twitter
Left: I Gede Ari Astina, or Jerinx. Right: Twitter screengrab of one of Jerinx’s critics. Photos: Facebook and Twitter

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a fertile ground for conspiracy theories to flourish, so much so that we’re seeing well-known figures here in Indonesia taking it upon themselves to echo these questionable ideas on their massive platforms. While the current state of our economy and society may in turn encourage these conspiracy beliefs, some Indonesians are not shying away from using social media to fight back against the dangerous infodemic. 

First of all, it might be wise to acknowledge that our world has indeed been taken over (for lack of a better phrase) by the new coronavirus, and even those of us who are fortunate enough to be free of infection are undoubtedly experiencing the brunt of the outbreak in a myriad of ways. Staying at home, for those of us who can, is affecting everyone mentally and emotionally, and it’s certainly taking its toll on some people at this point. 

For the past few weeks, conspiracy theories on COVID-19 have found their way into the public discourse among Indonesians. What started as misinformation soon turned into something potentially more sinister, and further promoted by a number of people with huge followings.

Perhaps one of the more prominent figures among them is Bali punk rock icon I Gede Ari Astina, who is more commonly known as JRX or Jerinx, of the band Superman is Dead (SID). Since at least late March, Jerinx has shared conspiracy theories on his Instagram ⁠— where he has over 848,000 followers ⁠— and further called on his fans to be wary of reports coming out from the mainstream media and to question Bill Gates, the World Health Organization and what he termed as the “global narrative.” 

Jerinx appears to be putting up a fight against the “global elite,” though without valid references or accountable research that goes beyond the act of theorizing. Early on, one of Jerinx’s references comes from David Icke, a notorious conspiracy theorist whose Youtube channel has just been deleted by the platform. Icke is known for having baselessly linked COVID-19 symptoms and 5G mobile networks. 

There’s such a thing as being critical of official responses, but it is another thing to underestimate the dangers of a new virus, which health experts are still learning new things about every day and have so far claimed the lives of more than 251,000 people across the globe. 

As one commenter said on one of Jerinx’s posts on Instagram: “… I agree if this conspiracy theory can be proven. But as long as it is a conspiracy theory that cannot be backed up by valid data, at the end of the day conspiracy theories also create fear, rumors and doubts that will endanger the global collaboration in our fight against this virus. Misinformation can make us careless.”

What makes Jerinx’s role as a conspiracy theorist particularly mystifying is the fact that, while he’s always been known as somewhat controversial, the drummer is also one of Bali’s most openly opinionated musicians and had campaigned against the Benoa Bay reclamation project here on the island. 

Over the years, he has gained the respect of even more fans and activists in the country for fighting for the future of Bali and fearlessly speaking up about the important cause. It has even led to several occasions where Twitter and Instagram took down his account and posts, presumably after being reported by those who disagreed with him. 

Jerinx and his conspiracy theories are definitely gaining a lot of attention, perhaps best illustrated by an Instagram Live “discussion” held late last month on the matter, which was viewed by over 150,000 people. 

On Twitter, where he made a comeback just yesterday, the 43-year-old said Indonesia should stop being a coward. 

“Come on Indonesia, stop being a coward. This virus is not as dangerous as your perception that has been shaped by the mainstream media. Go to the streets. Demand the government to return life to normal and be a dignified people once more. Independence! Or die!” he tweeted. 

Indonesian users have been quick to amplify their opposition against his dangerous ideas, and some have also criticized his seemingly misplaced crusade against the “global elite.” 

“What JRX, Deddy Corbuzier, Young Lex and their friends are doing is poison. Spreading conspiracy theories when medical workers are dying. Challenging media [platforms] to “debate” when they are reporting on information that the government is unwilling to share. You have a platform but you’re letting it go to waste. It’s disgusting.” 

Jerinx has also been talking himself up for a challenge, most recently asking to be allowed to come into close contact with a COVID-19 patient at the Sanglah General Hospital in Denpasar without using personal protective equipment (PPE). Indonesian doctor Berlian I. Idris weighed in on that call earlier today, as seen in the tweet below: 

“They will not permit you to meet a COVID-19 patient without PPE. This isn’t because Sanglah General Hospital is involved/in support/silent on the conspiracy theory, it’s because they are too kind to let your stupidity bring you harm. Please.” 

It is likely that conspiracy theories will become even more rife in the fight against COVID-19, especially as people engage more on social media platforms amid the pandemic. However, as illustrated by how some users have been responding to conspiracy theorists, there is tremendous hope that common sense will prevail. 

 

Check out more feature stories from Coconuts Bali here.

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