Social media in Turkey

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Social media in Turkey

by Karin Alexander


Taksim Square - Gezi Park Protests, İstanbul. (Alan Hilditch under a Creative Commons Licence)

TURKEY online

Population: c. 80 million (July 2013)

2012 Web Index Global Ranking: 27 (of 61)

% connected to the internet: 47.2% (April 2012)

% of total population using social media: 35% (December 2012)

% of 18-29 year olds using social media: 69% (December 2012)

It is not clear what the social and political effect of the weeks of protest in June will be. The protests started in Gezi Park and spread around the country. Like all the other protests after the one in 2011 in Tahir Square, Egypt, most people around the world think that the Web and social media have been very important in organising and reporting. But do the Turkish protests have anything new to say in the discussion about the Web and social media? How important are the Web and social media in starting political change?

Statistics show that a relatively low percentage of the population is online in Turkey – less than 50 per cent (in Britain it is 80 per cent). But the people that are online are very active, particularly on social media, and particularly the young people. Reports show that Turkey has between the fourth and seventh largest number of Facebook users in the world. Voice of America said that Turkey is Twitter’s eighth largest market in the world. The Web Foundation’s 2012 Web Index scored Turkey six out of 10 for social media use, lower than most developed nations, but higher than Egypt (5) and the same as Tunisia.

During the protests, a lot of information came from protesters, and there was a lot of discussion. A blog from New York University researchers on 1 June said that 90 per cent of geo-located tweets came from Turkey, and 88 per cent were in Turkish. This is very different from a Starbird study on Twitter in the Egyptian protests; this showed that only 30 per cent of the most re-tweeted tweets came from inside Egypt in 2011.

Turks also used social media, particularly Twitter, where local media did not report enough. They created a hashtag #BugünTelevizyonlariKapat (Turn off your television today). The use of social media to make messages get to more people and get past traditional media in protest action is not new. But the clear focus on domestic media is interesting and is different from how social media has been used by activists in the Syria and Iran; for example, web channels have often mainly given information to global media.

People are using the Web more cleverly. Turkish people quickly started encrypting when they thought people were censoring them. According to Anchor Free, VPN (Virtual Private Networks) downloads increased by ten times as much in one day. Everyone knows about the use of VPNs to stop censorship online, but this was very quick, and shows how people feel so strongly about having a voice.

The Turkish experience has been similar to other social unrest but has added new things, such as a lot of use of the local language and the very quick start of encryption technologies. Again, the Web has given citizens a tool to get people involved and a way to communicate how they feel. At the start, Gezi was a park being changed into a shopping mall, but it now means freedom of speech and the importance of independent media.

But will this bring sustainable social and political change? That is almost impossible to say. Turkish citizens are using the Web to get round traditional (but not effective, or restricted) ways of communicating with government. It is worrying that the Turkish state reacted badly to the use of social media and arrested people. True democracy needs the people to agree – it is not simply winning elections. The voices of the Turkish people –via the Web and social media –show that the politicians need to connect with the citizens who elected them. The government now say they will delay the development of Gezi Park. This shows how online conversations have started real-world action that could lead to true change. We do not know what will happen in future, but the recent events in Turkey show that the Web has an increasingly important role to play in helping the relationship between state and citizen.

Karin Alexander, World Wide Web Foundation

About the World Wide Web Foundation started by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web Foundation ( wants the open Web to be a global public good and a basic right, creating a world where everyone, everywhere can use the Web to communicate, work together and innovate freely. Led by CEO Anne Jellema, our team works from 8 countries in the developed and developing world and includes 12 different nationalities.

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