The app triggering a digital sexual revolution among young Indonesians
Forget Snapchat or Pokemon Go, Bigo Live is the new app gaining popularity in Southeast Asia. Bigo Live is a video streaming social network that prompts users to engage with amateur broadcasters in real time. Beyond chat messages, users can send their hosts virtual gifts (flowers, sports cars, perfume) which they can convert into real money in exchange for what they stream.
The app, now taking Indonesia by storm, promises a chance to 'broadcast your life and build your audience'. However, what originated as an innocent idea to 'bring fashion live' and showcase talents and interests has quickly become a platform to share sexually explicit content.
Open the app and you are instantly flooded with invitations from a catalogue of hosts with sexually inviting avatars. Pick one and you’ll get a view of his or her live webcam — perhaps lounging in bed or in the midst of a strip tease. Pay them with virtual gifts and it’s not hard to find a user that will submit to your requests. But this Singapore based app was never intended for such use, and although it is also used to stream everyday life among many of their 7 million users worldwide, it is increasingly being used for sexual content by young Indonesians.
One plausible explanation for this is that Bigo provides a private, liberating space for Indonesians to experiment with sexuaI desire in an otherwise conservative society. Indonesia has strong ethno-religious values, sex is considered taboo and extramarital intercourse disgraceful. Lawmakers have attempted to ban public sales of condoms, to censor sexually suggestive content in the media and even encourage police raids on unmarried couples in motels.
Technology has offered Indonesians a chance to follow their natural impulses, and to rebel against social expectations, all while earning real money. Bigo has become a safe haven where they can express their sexual desires and flirt with complete anonymity. It gives them the thrill of (virtual) sex less of the risk and guilt that comes with physical sex.
What we are seeing with Bigo may be just the tip of the iceberg. In Indonesia, technology is liberating people to engage in new types of behaviour. It has the potential to become a catalyst for even more radical social changes.
- Article by Ezra Hidayat