Sunday, 2 June 2013

Turkey - Social (Unrest) Media

(Photo credit: vpickering)
Once again, a nation's people has taken to the streets protesting its government. This time around it's Turkey, now into the third day of protests sparked by government plans to build a shopping mall in a public park. A swift and draconian reaction by police to the original protest (a relatively small scale affair) saw tear gas canisters being fired directly at protesters, with images of badly injured people quickly making their way online.

The demonstrations quickly swelled as people took to the streets. Quite who those people were and what their motivation, we'll probably never know. Some undoubtedly were thugs, looters and anarchists bent on using the protests to their own ends. Some probably represent a disaffected opposition, beaten at the ballots recently with mutters of alleged irregularities.

But the overwhelming majority were people like you and me, angered and feeling disempowered by their government, driven to action by reports of shocking police brutality. Those reports moved fast - Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Quora among other platforms used to get the word out when 'traditional' media was slow on the uptake. Even now, 72 hours into protests that have filled the streets and squares of Istanbul and Ankara, international media coverage is surprisingly muted - although Turkish media apparently have ignored the protests altogether, which is a worry. I first started seeing the reports and images from Istanbul online on Friday - you're always waiting for 'major media' to come in and back them up, always wary of buying images that purport to show events that could be slanted or weighted by vested interest. It's the same problem an editorially minded observer faces with the footage from Syria.

And yet the images kept coming, the reports of people shut in tube stations with gas canisters lobbed in after them, young people with horrific wounds from canisters and rubber bullets fired into the crowd. Yesterday, as the damage increased and images of bloodied civilians flowed, Turkish authorities throttled the Internet, specifically Facebook and Twitter. This report from TechCrunch explains more. Apparently the police pulled back - a mixture of reduced confrontation and information flow combined to take the heat off the demonstrations.

We'll see today whether that has worked - the protests have been more focused in the afternoons so far . But the sight of a wannabe European, secular democracy shutting down the Internet to better control its people as they're bludgeoned by massive force is not one that sits comfortably. You can follow the hashtag #direngeziparki..
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