Twitter is a “menace” and a “curse,” according to Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who lambasted social media as a means for spreading lies in an interview over the weekend, following a surge in protests around Turkey, fueled in part by social media sharing of images of injured protesters.
Erdogan’s comments are disturbingly reminiscent of some other embattled leaders in the region, including Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. But the key difference is that Erdogan is a democratically-elected leader in a country with (mostly) free speech. Thus his attacks on social media are especially unnerving, as are his attempts to paint his critics as terrorist sympathizers -- another classic rhetorical move from the Mubarak/Assad playbook.
And unfortunately the similarities don’t end there: protesters are accusing the government of blocking the Internet and social media sites in order to stop protesters sharing images of police brutality and coordinating further protests. This is a rather shocking allegation, considering Turkey is supposed to enjoy the rule of law, and Turkish telecom providers deny receiving any such requests from government officials, instead blaming Internet outages on the huge volume of social media traffic provoked by the protests (a study from NYU tallied over two million tweets relating to the demonstration sent on Friday evening alone, reaching ten million by the end of the weekend).
Protesters have also accused the government of cutting power to neighborhoods with large numbers of protesters -- a tactic that might be easier for the authorities to get away with, since Istanbul is periodically affected by power outages, giving some plausible deniability.
Of course it’s not just social media that is fueling this terrorist conspiracy to save a city park: Erdogan has also lashed out against traditional media, including broadcast TV and newspapers, for “provocative coverage” that somehow encouraged the protests, adding that media outlets will be investigated and “steps taken.” It’s worth noting that on the other side protesters have complained of a news blackout in Turkish news media, which seems determined not to cover the protests (understandably, given Erdogan’s threats of government retaliation).
And still it goes on: Turkish activists have started a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise money to buy full-page ads in The New York Times or The Washington Post, in the hopes of raising awareness in the U.S. -- a key Turkish ally -- about the protests and their goals. As of Monday afternoon he first funding target of $53,800 had already been met, but donations are still being accepted.