Online groups as a space for sharing and filtering information on Coronavirus

Author: Rebekha Adriana, researcher, Leiden University alumnus

Fieldsite: Rebekha conducted research among the Indonesian diaspora in the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands, the Indonesian diaspora community actively uses social media platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp to find and share information on Coronavirus in the Netherlands as well as in Indonesia with fellow Indonesian diaspora and friends and family back home. The Indonesian diaspora in the Netherlands is sizeable and consists of different groups ranging from Indonesian students to Indonesian nationals who have been living in the Netherlands for several decades, to undocumented migrants.

Several members of the Indonesian diaspora who have been living in the Netherlands for decades established a Facebook group to connect with their fellow Indonesians in the Netherlands and share information. The administrators and the members of the group regularly share information on Coronavirus and update the group on the situation in the Netherlands as well as in Indonesia by posting news from Dutch news channels or Indonesian news channels as well as funny memes and videos to cheer one another. The administrators also act as a moderators who mediate the discussion and regulate information that is shared in the group. At the beginning of the outbreak in the Netherlands back in early March, many members of the group shared updates on the number of cases and deaths every day, which the admin urged them to stop sharing and instead provide a link to the Worldmeters website where these are updated daily. According to the admin, the features provided by Facebook for a big group allows the admin to get instant notifications on suggestions if an article shared by a member is trustworthy or not, which helps them a lot in filtering the information shared in the group. The members are also quite active in reporting to the admin if someone posts something that is deemed inappropriate and the admin will then delete the posts.

Screenshot of a viral video of Indonesian ghost “Pocong” being used to scare local residents to stay indoors shared in the Facebook group. Source here.

One member of the Indonesian diaspora, a graduate student, also uses Facebook to find information and updates on Coronavirus by using Facebook’s COVID-19 Information Center, a page that compiles information update on Coronavirus virus from different authorities and news in a user’s region. This Facebook page also provides a community help feature which lets one see people in their area who are offering helps or requesting help, as well as providing tips on self-care at home and how to limit the  information you consume each day by alerting you when you have caught up with enough news for that particular time and telling you to check back later for more updates. In this stressful situation, she feels the need to filter and limit her news consumption more carefully. At the beginning of Coronavirus outbreak in the Netherlands, she checked news updates a few times a day, which made her anxious and even more stressed. To ease the pressure on herself, she busies herself with other activities and limits herself to checking updates on Coronavirus only once a day. Her Whatsapp group which includes her close friends in Indonesia also becomes a platform not only for sharing information but also checking and discussing the validity of news and information. She and her friends compare information from different news channels to find out which pieces of information are trustworthy.

Screenshot of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information Center on Facebook

Another member of the Indonesian diaspora, a woman who has been living in the Netherlands for almost 10 years, uses different platforms to find information on Coronavirus. While Facebook is the most popular platform among the Indonesian diaspora, for her, Facebook has become “too much”. There are too many posts that distract her from finding trustworthy information on the virus, so she opts for Instagram instead, where she can immediately see Instagram stories from several news channels which will direct her to the article on the official websites. In addition, fake news and misinformation on Coronavirus are exaggeratedly circulated on Whatsapp groups, and to avoid those, she prefers to check  Dutch and international News. When she comes across articles or information that she sees as important, she then shares it with her family in Indonesia through their Whatsapp group, even translating news articles from English or Dutch to Indonesian for her family in Indonesia and reminding them to always pray and take care. For her, filtering news at this difficult time is essential to preventing anxiety and stress and the consumption of too much negative news and news of dubious value.

For the diaspora, social media platforms and messaging apps are the main channels used to connect with family back home and fellow diaspora members and during the time of the pandemic, social media is also used to find, share, and discuss news and information on Coronavirus updates and measures with fellow diasporans, or family back home. At a time where information and news from everywhere, including misinformation and fake news, are being spread widely, active discussion on Whatsapp group or Facebook groups serves as a means to reviewing information and combating information overload.