Fans and non-fans of homegrown idol group JKT48 have taken to Twitter in a heated debate over the band’s newest recruit, 10-year-old Chithlyn Gwynets Santoso, who appeared in a video posted by the @jeketifeed JKT48 fandom account on Sunday.
The pre-teen appeared in the video among the 12 other members of the group’s latest lineup, Generation 9, during a “handshake event” that an unidentified audience member had recorded.
In the video, the audience cheers as Chitlyn introduces herself and her age, and an adult male voice is discernible among the cheering.
The video has garnered 286 replies since it was posted on Sunday, many of which caution that the youngest member of the idol group could fuel pedophiliac fantasies.
“Wait a minute, how does [a girl] that young pass [recruitment]. Isn’t there a minimum age restriction to join the group? Seeing those grown men screaming after the girl’s introduction, this should be a red flag,” commented Twitter user @mikroorganisme.
Another Twitter user, a 21-year-old student who requested anonymity for her own safety, switched her account setting to “private” after die-hard JKT48 fans responded angrily to her comment.
She had raised concerns over the group’s habitual practice of promoting its members’ “girlish” physical appeal, just like its sister band, the Japanese idol group AKB48. She added that the practice seemed to have gained acceptance as a norm, as she rarely came across any criticisms about it.
The user has since alerted the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI).
“I tweeted [my comment] this morning at around five before I went to sleep,” she told The Jakarta Post on Monday by phone. “When I woke up at noon, I saw that I had around 200 replies. I did not read them all, but most were angry,” she said.
She also received direct messages (DMs) that contained threats and angry comments on her Instagram account. She also noticed “suspicious” views on her LinkedIn profile and even found new followers that had set up new accounts that used her image as their profile picture.
“It started to feel very creepy. They tried to find out where I live, and even found out [the university I attend],” she said.
She added that most of the accounts that trolled her belonged to “creepy” adult males.
“However, there were also some JKT48 fans who sent me DMs and apologised,” she said.
It was then that she decided to set her account to “private”, as the constant notifications had “become annoying”.
The JKT48 idol group was formed in 2011 as an adaptation of Japan’s AKB48. The JKT48 entertainment group manages and trains its members, who perform regularly at the fX Sudirman in South Jakarta.
Last year, the company announced a new system that divided its members into a Team and an Academy. The Team comprise the main performers and consists of three 16-member teams: J, KIII and T. The Academy has Class A for new trainees, and the Class B trainees are the backups for the main performers. The members leave the group when they “graduate”.
The group sells tickets to regular “Hand Shake” [sic] events, at which fans may “shake” the performers’ hands. A fan – many of whom are adult males – can buy up to 10 tickets for each event.
Akbar Adi Wibowo, a 27-year-old JKT48 fan from Yogyakarta, said that he was surprised that the group would recruit a 10-year-old.
“Honestly, I am shocked that a 10-year-old would be admitted to the group,” he told the Post on Monday by text message.
“But I don’t think it should be a problem, because the main purpose for the girls in joining JKT48 is not to work, but to develop their skills and interests in dancing, singing, MC-ing, and many [other things]. So I think JKT48 is more like a [study] course,” added Akbar, who has followed “the JKT48 universe” since 2012.
However, he conceded that there was a risk that the kind of entertainment the group provided could attract pedophiles, especially since adult males made up a considerable chunk of its fan base.
“However, I think true fans are those whose greatest joy in following JKT48 is seeing the idols grow and develop, to see them go from zero to blossom into great dancers and singers,” he said.
Writer Natasha Hadiwinata, who is 28 and a JKT48 fan, said that she had never heard of any pedophilia cases connected to JKT48.
“I have never heard of any instances of fans inappropriately touching their idols or acting inappropriately in front of their idols. And sexual fantasies happen only in their minds. We can’t control it,” said Natasha, adding that the group’s fans came from all backgrounds.
“There are many girls and young children [among JKT48 fans]. I have met many people from many backgrounds in this fandom,” she said.
Neither the JKT48 management nor the KPAI could be reached for comment at the time of writing.