Elderly women in Lombok are bathing in mud for TikTok money, and authorities are keen to take away their dippers

Screenshots of women in Lombok doing the mud bathing challenge for money.
Screenshots of women in Lombok doing the mud bathing challenge for money.

She doesn’t exactly look thrilled to be sitting on a plastic stool in the middle of a shabby pool containing mud water, but a fully clothed elderly lady willfully plays along to the wishes of thousands who have tuned in just to see her.

In front of her is a phone propped up and streaming her live via TikTok. Depending on how much the audience “gifts” her via the platform, she may rinse herself with mud water using either a dipper or a pail.

She is just one of several ladies who have taken up the mud bath challenge in the village of Setanggor on Lombok island. There’s certainly an economic incentive to keep going — they can reportedly earn up to IDR2 million (US$132.50) in the form of TikTok gifts each time they live stream bathing in mud water.

“I received IDR9 million (US$596.31) after nine livestreams. That’s better than toiling in the field. If I work at someone’s field from morning to afternoon, I would get IDR35 thousand (US$2.32),” one star, 55-year-old Inak Mawar, told Detik yesterday.

Setting up the livestreams is Inak’s neighbor, 31-year-old Sultan Ahyar, who operates the TikTok account @intan_komalasari92 with his wife.

Inak said Sultan Ahyar never coerced her to go on his livestreams. On the contrary, she said she had to beg him to get featured.

“Once I cried asking him to go live. We had to wait for our turn. I needed the money. I begged Sultan Ahyar, ‘When is it my turn to go live?’,” she said, explaining that other middle-aged and elderly residents of the village are now in Sultan Ahyar’s livestream roster, and that he splits the earnings equally with them.

Poverty exploitation?

Amid concerns of exploitation, local police launched a probe but found that everybody involved were not forced in any way to be part of the live streams. 

Nevertheless, police say they will look deeper into the matter to avoid “misperceptions from the public that could lead to unrest.”

There doesn’t seem to be any legal ground to shut down Sultan Ahyar and his mud bathing stars. Even the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, who are notorious content blockers, said this particular content does not fall under any categories deemed illegal by the Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE), which include pornography, gambling, scams, violence, defamation, blasphemy, fake news, and terrorism.

That said, the ministry says it may yet act against the mud bathers should they get a recommendation from the Ministry of Social Affairs declaring the content to be exploitative of the elderly and those in poverty.

That is an idea Sultan Ahyar is vehemently against. During an appearance at a talk show on national TV, he pushed back against the notion that he and the mud bathers are “beggars” and stressed that they are all just in it for the money.

When people get up to all sorts of weird shit to go viral on social media, and no one is being coerced in this instance, is that so wrong?

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