Turkey and the Twitter menace

by Toby Manhire / 26 June, 2013
The prime minister loathes Twitter, but the mayor of Ankara embraces its power - until it backfires.
Ankara Mayor Ibrahim Melih Gökçek's Twitter page.

“There is now a menace which is called Twitter,” said Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, waving his fist at protesters in Istanbul and elsewhere.

The short-form social medium was the “main troublemaker”, a “nuisance for society”.

He wasn’t completely wrong – there have been examples of Twitter spreading misinformation around the Taksim Square-centred protests. But it would be more accurate to say Twitter is a nuisance for him.

Protesters, writes Alex Kantrowitz from Istanbul at Forbes.com, “hooked themselves to Twitter like an IV”.

Along with other social networks it quickly became integral to both organisation and the dissemination of information, filling a vacuum left by the main news channels, which, in the early days at least, reports Germany’s Deutsche-Welle, “broadcast either talk shows or documentaries about penguins”.

According to a columnist in Turkish daily Radikal, quoted by D-W, Twitter has been “the nerve centre of a resistance movement that does not have a command centre”.



Among Turkey’s most popular Twitter hashtags is #duranadam, meaning “standing man”.

In an an echo of the famous Tiananmen Square image of a solitary man facing down a column of tanks, artist Erdem Gunduz has gained notoriety for his own one-man protest: standing silently, motionlessly before a large portrait of modern, secular Turkey’s secular founder, Ataturk.

“I'm nothing,” he tells the BBC. “The idea is important ... The government doesn't want to understand, didn't try to understand why people are on the streets. This is really silent resistance. I hope people stop and think ‘what happened there?’”

Gunduz’s act “exemplifies some features of the tradition of passive resistance”, writes Richard Seymour in the Guardian.

First, the ability to meet overpowering physical force with a determined, but passive, feat of defiance has sometimes been the death knell of recalcitrant regimes, whether it is the Shah or Marcos – because it points to resources that the protesters have which can overwhelm the state's repressive capacities. Second, passive resistance is not merely symbolic; it confuses and derails the calculations of the rulers. When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, part of the resistance involved painting over street signs and mysteriously shutting off infrastructure.

Gunduz's protest was both an affront and a question for the authorities: beat him? Why? He's just standing there. Leave him alone? Then he wins, doesn't he?



Prime Minister Erdogan’s seething remarks about Twitter were overlooked by at least one of his party allies, the Ankara mayor.

A prolific tweeter, Ibrahim Melih Gökçek accused Turkish BBC journalist Selin Girit of being a foreign spy, after she reported on Twitter that some protesters were calling for the movement to stall the economy - “not to be the standing man, but the man that stops”.

The mayor’s response: “They want to destroy our economy with an agent hired by England, inside Turkey.”

He urged his followers to bring the matter to global attention by using the not-so-pithy hashtag #ingiltereadınaajanlıkyapmaselingirit, which translates, according to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, as "Don't be an agent on behalf of England Selin Girit”.

The BBC denounced the campaign, but a more potent rebuttal came in the form of a rival hashtag, #provokatörmelihgökçek or "Melih Gökçek is a provocateur", which was soon trending well above the mayor’s effort.

His response was telling.

“My lawyer is going to sue everyone one by one who tweets #ProvokatorMelihGokcek,” the mayor tweeted, apparently with a straight face. “No one can get away with anything because Turkey is a country of law.”
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