In the past several years the role of social networking in arranging, encouraging, and responding to protest and revolution has been a hot topic of conversation. From Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring Revolutions, social media has been at the epicenter of many of the major demonstrations against political corruption. The protests taking place in Turkey add to this trend and are transforming our understanding of how social media can cultivate and fuel public involvement.
Last week authorities assembled outside of Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Surrounding the nucleus of a three-week protest against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the police shouted muffled warnings, and forcefully moved in.
It was several hours before the commotion ceased, and by then the vast encampment that had been assembled by thousands of protesters was demolished and evacuated. The park had been the focal point for demonstrations, strategy meetings, circulation of current social news, and activity planning− and with Gezi still empty− social media, used considerably in the movement’s adolescence, is more important than ever.
Just a week before the raid, Turkish police arrested over 20 people just for using Twitter to “spread untrue information.” And Erdogan labeled social media “the worst menace to society.” But the people of Turkey consider it more of a critical resource and a civil right− an instrument of revolution and a symbol of the power they hope to take back from corrupt politicians.
Civil and political unrest is not unique to Turkey; revolts are erupting all throughout the Middle East. Protesters in nations like Libya, Jordan, Yemen, and Egypt are rising up against the injustices carried out by their governments, hoping that change is on the horizon. Economies are unstable, jobs are non-existent, and the tight-lipped government-run media networks are starving the people of information. The uncertainty, general distrust of the government, and bleak vision of the future create an environment that is ripe with civil unrest and disorder.
Mainstream news, media, and research agencies are failing to cover the demonstrations, and in addition, many nations closely monitor networking outlets to hunt down anyone plotting to lead an uprising. Protesters in other nations are following in the footsteps of Egyptian demonstrators, and are relying on Twitter as a life source and sole communication line to other activists.
People are sharing videos and images on their social networking sites in order to unveil social issues that are rarely discussed in local newspapers or on television programs. Campaigners have posted Vine videos of riots that highlight the asymmetrical violence faced by citizens at the hands of the police− footage that would never have been released to mainstream news outlets.
According to research by NYU Politics Ph.D candidates Pablo Barbera and Megan Metzger, unlike the protests in Egypt however, nearly all of the geo-located tweets in Turkey are coming from within the country. In other words, they explain, social media is a tool for the protesters themselves, not just a medium to show solidarity from citizens abroad.
We are living in a time that is unique in history, this is the first time in human existence that people can tweet, blog, post, and interact across networks and across the globe−and the latest development in communication is the use of social media to share and discuss news of dissatisfaction with the political state of your nation. While many people in the United States are of the opinion that Twitter, Facebook, and other networks can be used as tools in maintaining an honest democracy, other nations are struggling to exercise what we recognize as our First Amendment right.
By Sasha Novikov | Creatine Marketing