#Occupygezi: The resistance is tweeted
A study by New York University revealed that at least 2 million tweets with protest hashtags were sent in just eight hours on May 31.One of the thousands of photos circulating on social media in the last couple of days in Turkey shows a young man in a hoodie against the backdrop of blinding smoke, wearing a gas mask and checking his Twitter account on his smart phone. It is one powerful image about what has been going on in Turkey in the last two weeks.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had his reasons when, in his usual condescending and angry tone, called social media “the worst menace to society” last week, citing Twitter specifically as the biggest menace. The protests that have been making Turkey the number-one news across the globe (even if that hasn’t always been the case in the Turkish mainstream media) is yet another example of the unyielding power of social media in assisting a social movement across masses and boundaries.
Social media has always been popular in Turkey when Facebook and, soon after, Twitter entered our lives in the late 2000s. Turkey has almost always been among the top 10 countries in terms of the number of Facebook and Twitter users. Of the 36 million Internet users in Turkey, 32 million are presumed to be on Facebook. The increase in social media use in the last two years has displayed an average of 300 percent increase.
So the social media was already big when a peaceful sit-in two weeks ago to protest the replacement of a park in the center of Istanbul with a new development snowballed into something modern Turkey had never seen before. Taking into consideration the huge role of social media in relaying information when most of the mainstream media was in engaged in an unabashed blackout, the Western press was quick to label the protests the “Turkish spring.”
The resemblance was there for many who perceived Turkey not as a democratic, modern country but an eastern, Islamist country. The “exoticization” of Turkey, hence the protests, came in with little disregard for the popular hashtags that spread the news across the world – the hashtags that winked at another social movement, #occupygezi, #occupytaksim and #occupyistanbul.
Occupy Wall Street meets Arab Spring
The Occupy Wall Street, or more broadly, the Occupy movement, was the initial inspiration for the nature of the peaceful sit-in in the park, for the demonstration of demands through democratic platforms, and for the way it called for action in social media (specifically a group of bloggers) through predetermined hashtags.
As the protestors met with unexpected and continuing police brutality, the resemblance of communication through social media veered more from the Occupy movement to the Arab Spring. When the police went after protesters with tear gas, pepper spray and water cannon, panic-stricken people grabbed their smart phones, informing each other of the locations of the police, places they could run to safely, wi-fi passwords, and applications they could download if Facebook or Twitter went down.
When the news of the detained and the injured emerged, social media was once again quick to the rescue. Legal and constitutional rights, what to do when detained, what to use to remedy the affects of pepper spray, the locations of makeshift infirmaries, and phone numbers for free legal aid were posted and reposted, shared and shared again.
A study by New York University revealed that at least 2 million tweets with protest hashtags were sent in just eight hours on May 31. Some of these tweets (along with thousands of Facebook posts) were sent in English, German, French and Spanish, cries from the protestors, and those following their ordeal with the police on social media, to make their voices heard when the traditional media opted for silence.
Whenever the police retreated, social media was full of messages of peace, calls for nonviolence, solidarity, reminding everyone that this was a movement of the people, not of any party nor ideology. The protesters relaying their messages across the world were mostly young people, cutting across ideologies, ethnicities and political affinities.
Young protestors savvy with social media
These young people were from a generation dismissed as apoliticized, spending (according to a research) 2.5 hours a day on the Internet. They were apparently not apolitical, but sick of decrepit political machinations, and finally had found their voices. These voices were of color, of peace, and definitely of humor.
“The Gasfather,” read one banner, with Erdoğan’s portrait photoshopped over Marlon Brando’s face on the legendary poster of “The Godfather.” Another showed penguins marching with the headline, “Antarctica supports you,” a reference to news channel CNNTürk’s running of a documentary on penguins during the clashes.
The young protestors were mostly educated, creative, and computer savvy, taking the resistance to a more sophisticated level with not only the use of Facebook and Twitter, but of Instagram, websites of timelines and useful information, Tumblr pages of street art and graffiti, as well as dozens of live stream video coverage from the protest sites.
Throughout all of this, the prime minister and his acolytes from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) once again showed how out of touch they were with the new media and the predominantly younger population of Turkey they were so desperately trying to reach out to. The same prime minister who had tweeted that they could never “support the Bashar government,” nor “any government that is using brutal force on its own people,” had now turned his back on both Twitter and his own people.
While calling Twitter “a menace,” the prime minister sent the occasional tweet to his nearly 3 million followers. “You are not to be the youth who walks around the streets with pots and pans,” referring to a popular protest mechanism of the older generations from out of their windows, “But you are to be a generation who will be walking around with computers.”
The answer from the youth was quick: “I am sending this tweet from a pan.” Now we know what the depoliticized generation was doing in front of their computers for years.