Turkish demonstrations using social media despite censorship

In other times, events as those taking place in Turkey now would have probably been much unknown to the rest of the world. But, over the past several years, social media has developed spectacularly and with it, its role in promoting, organizing and responding to protest and revolution.

The protests taking place in Turkey, organized initially in response to government plans to build a new mall on a green space in the centre, have turned into a demonstration against the government’s policies.

The fight between the Turkish government and the demonstrating citizens has not taken place only in the streets but also in the social media. A huge amount of tweets mentioning hashtags related to the protest have been sent. One of the reasons for this flood of tweets is a reaction to the lack of coverage in the Turkish media which has been practically absent. Turkish protesters have begun live-tweeting the protests and using smart-phones to live stream video of the protests while urging Turks to turn off their televisions in protest over the lack of coverage.

The Turkish government reacted by trying to increase censorship over the online media and by also using the social media via twitter accounts of government members. The Prime Minister as well as many of the ministers used their own strategy to accuse protesters of disinformation.

“There is this curse called Twitter. It’s all lies … That thing called social media is the curse of society today,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan.

According to TechCrunch, both Facebook and Twitter, have been almost impossible to access from inside Istanbul, and other parts of Turkey. “They throttled the bandwidth to the bare minimum so that officially it’s not blocked, but it’s not loading any more… it looks like the government is reducing the speed using TTNET which is the ISP they control,” said an anonymous source. 3G networks have also been blocked. Turkey’s telecoms regulator argued the access problems were related to traffic surge rather than an official block, which would require a court order.

EDRi member Alternative Informatics Association from Turkey commented on the current situation: “It is highly probable that police used special jammers to cut whole communication in designated areas. We were informed by activists that GSM connections had been broken while a police helicopter went on circles above the Taksim Square. A TTNET representative (Turkey’s DSL provider monopoly, with ~90% market share) explained that they haven’t cut or slow down Internet and probably the police may have been used jammers.” They also said they are collecting and assessing evidence about social media censorship and other blocking issues, in order to provide a clear picture about the situation during the protests.

As a response to access problems, some local shops have removed security from their WiFi networks to allow internet access although the accessing speed was very much affected. Yet, social media has proven a significant tool that has given the protesters a means to communicate and exchange information, practically in real time, therefore allowing a more accurate description of events.

According to the news coverage, at least 24 people detained 4 and 5 June 2013 over the messages posted on Twitter. More legal details on these situations was published by Yaman Akdeniz & Kerem Altiparmak, despite the fact that further examination of the news’ details is not possible at the moment due to the confidentiality of the investigations.

Source: EDRI-gram “Turkish demonstrations using social media despite censorship” Number 11.11, June 5, 2013

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